• Oil Companies Gouge for Billions in Profits, Seek to Lay Blame On Greens

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Global warming threatens life on the planet, driving unprecedented mass extinctions of species, as well as rising human death tolls.

    Laws and regulations meant to combat global warming threaten the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies, which is why it’s not surprising that oil companies have been organizing to fight back. What is surprising is that they have managed to keep a deceptively low profile, for such a powerful industry.

    This past year, oil companies tried to argue that new global warming cap-and-trade regulations, which were taking effect Jan. 1, 2015, would constitute a hidden tax of 76 cents per gallon. However, the impact turned out to be miniscule. Oil companies have extracted almost $5 billion in excess profits from California drivers in the first six months of this year alone, more than $200 per driver, according Golden State Gouge: The Summer of Record Refining Profits, a report from the Santa Monica-based public interest group Consumer Watchdog, which was released at an Aug. 5 press conference.

    “The Golden State is getting gouged,” Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said. “The California experience in gas prices is historically unprecedented.”

    One simple observation drove the point home.

    “Crude prices are now below $45 a barrel,” Court noted. “The last time gas prices were at $4 a gallon, crude prices were over $100 a barrel.”

    The report is just the latest in a series not only detailing how oil companies are gouging California consumers, but also drawing attention to how they were trying to use these price hikes to shift blame onto global warming regulations. While oil companies and their allies try to portray the issue as “big government” regulation versus the free market, billionaire financier, philanthropist and environmental advocate Tom Steyer, who also spoke at the press conference, stressed how far California’s oil market diverges from what a free market is supposed to do, and how necessary it is for government to act, when markets are broken.

    “If you spend a lot of time in markets, there is a theoretical idea of a perfect market, where you have unlimited competitors driving the price to the marginal cost, so there’s an economic idea in people’s heads,” Steyer said. “And the further you get from that economic ideal, the less well the market is functioning. In this case this is a market that is functioning horribly. It is very far from our idea of the way the capitalist market is supposed to work. A capitalist market is supposed to work to the advantage of consumers, to deliver goods and services in the best way at the lowest price. That’s just not happening.”

    As for what to do about it, the broad answer was equally clear, Steyer suggested.

    “This is a traditional function of government going right back to Teddy Roosevelt, in the early 20th century, when he was trying to break up the trusts,” he said. “There’s something going on where the citizens of California are being disadvantaged, and we believe their elected officials are perfectly positioned to find out what’s going on, and represent them.”

    Steyer referred to the price gouging as “highway robbery,” and not without reason. According to the report:Watchdog-California-drivers-being-gas-gouged-on-unprecedented-scale-in-2015

    • California drivers paid $1.2 billion extra for their gasoline in July alone, the most ever recorded, compared to U.S. average prices;
    • Refiner margins (the amount refiners receive for each gallon of gasoline) reached a record high of $1.61 in the second week of July. More than triple their average margin of 48 cents per gallon;
    • According to the California Energy Commission, the refiner margin has averaged $1.05 per gallon since the price spike began in February, double their 48 cent per gallon average margin;
    • In the second quarter of 2015, Chevron made $731 million in profit on their United States refining. This was an increase of $214 million, or 41 percent over the same quarter last year;
    • Valero’s California profits were 11 times higher in the second quarter of 2015 than the same quarter in 2014. The company made $294 million, up from $24 million.

    But “highway robbery” pales beside something even more nefarious, intended to preserve the robbers’ hold on all of us in perpetuity: an attempt to use the skyrocketing prices to shift the blame onto environmentalists and government regulators who are leading the fight against global warming, as part of the oil industry’s ongoing covert war against climate change action.

    This past November, behind-the-scenes details began leaking out in a story from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “Leaked: The Oil Lobby’s Conspiracy to Kill Off California’s Climate Law.” Climate activists had gotten their hands on a PowerPoint deck with slides and talking points created by the Western States Petroleum Association, which BusinessWeek described as evidence of “a highly coordinated, multi-state coalition that does not want California to succeed at moving off fossil fuels because that might set a nasty precedent for everyone else,” BusinessWeek added. “The PowerPoint deck details a plan to throttle AB 32 (also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) and steps to thwart low carbon fuel standards (known as LCFS) in California, Oregon, and Washington State.”

    A key part of the plan is the creation of an array of phony grassroots (aka “astroturf”) groups with names like Oregon Climate Change Campaign, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, and AB 32 Implementation Group, which BusinessWeek noted, “are made to look and sound like grassroots citizen-activists while promoting oil industry priorities and actually working against the implementation of AB 32.”

    The deck also previewed Western States Petroleum Association’s plan for an ad campaign warning that the cap-and-trade program for gas and diesel, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, would constitute a “hidden” gas tax that devious politicians were trying to sneak past consumers.

    The next month, in December 2014, Consumer Watchdog provided a much more comprehensive view of this deceptive propaganda war in a report, Pump Jacking California’s Climate Protection: The Threat Of Oil Industry Influence and Market Manipulation. It combined a discussion of conventional corrupt political practices — $70 million in campaign contributions and $36 million in lobbying from January 2009 to September 30, 2014 — with the novel aspects employed by the oil industry.

    “In addition to unprecedented lobbying and campaign contribution expenditures in recent years, California’s oil companies are likely to use their extraordinary power over the gasoline market to artificially inflate gasoline prices as a way of driving political pressure against the new legal obligations refiners will face beginning in January 2015,” Pump Jacking warned in its executive summary. “The main finding of this review of oil companies’ tactics and strategies is that California’s state officials must be on high alert for such price manipulations and warn the oil companies that they will be immediately investigated and prosecuted for cut-backs in gasoline production that drive up price.”

    In the months since, Consumer Watchdog has issued a number of reports further exposing the workings of these market manipulations.

    On March 24, Consumer Watchdog released Price Spiked: How Oil Refiners Gouge Californians on Their Gasoline, which went into detail about how a small group of refiners manipulate prices — a problem identified as far back as 1999.

    The report noted, “when California’s Attorney General formed a gasoline pricing task force that identified market consolidation and limited inventories as causes of prices spikes.”

    The report went on to note, “California is an isolated gasoline market where consolidation has left 14 refineries producing a special, environmentally friendly blend of gasoline (CARB gasoline), and gasoline supplies on hand are far lower than the nation’s reserves. This leaves the market vulnerable to price spikes whenever there are refinery outages or accidents.”

    A follow-up report, Refining Profits: How Californians Get Fleeced at the Pump, released on May 5, shifted focus from the up-and-down of prices that consumers paid to the cumulative results seen in the quarterly profits of oil companies.

    For example, it noted, “On a recent call with investors, Chevron General Manager Jeff Gustavson admitted why the company did so well in the first quarter of 2015, ‘Margins increased earnings by 435 million driven by unplanned industry downtime and tight product supply on the U.S. West Coast.’ His statements reflect how refiners such as Chevron find it profitable to keep low inventory on hand and make large sums of money when the state encounters refinery problems.”

    Then, on June 30, Consumer Watchdog’s Wholesale Gasoline Market Analysis burrowed into the details of how refiners used “their contractual leverage over branded stations to charge gas prices that are 30 cents higher than what unbranded stations pay”—that’s 30 cents per gallon of pure excess profit. This compared with a national average price difference of 5 cents the week that the report was released, according to the industry standard Lundberg Survey.

    Two weeks later, Consumer Watchdog drew attention to another wrinkle: California refiners were exporting oil during a period of limited supply and price volatility.

    “Oil refiners have kept the state running on empty and now they are sending fuel refined in California abroad right as the specter of low inventories in the state drives huge prices spikes,” said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court. “There is no good reason for the latest outrageous run up at the pump other than oil refineries manipulating inventories to drive gas prices artificially high.”

    All this lead up to the Aug. 5 release of “Golden State Gouge.”  Price gouging and market manipulation are far from being a new phenomenon — the oil industry has always been rife with collusion, influence peddling, market manipulation and the like — but these manipulations have been particularly intense.

    “This is an unprecedented price gap with America and it’s an unprecedented price gouge,” Court told Random Lengths. “The tactics of oil refiners range from withhold supply, exporting, leveraging their branded gas station contracts for higher prices on the street.  This is a nightmare for Californians who face four refiners who control 78 percent of the market and have pulled every trick in the book to gouge Californians.”

    “Oil refiners see Californians as their sugar daddies,” Court said, when asked to summarize what the full sweep of reports tells us. “The historic second quarter refining profits from California at Tesoro, the second largest refiner, the 1100% profit increase in California refining profits at Valero, and Chevron’s refining unit having its best first half of the year ever, with 54% of its refining in CA, should show Californians they are being stalked by profit needy predators in the oil industry who are making up from Californians what they are losing on crude oil elsewhere.”

    As for what California’s public officials should being doing, Court said, “California’s elected officials need to force oil refiners to be more transparent, open their books and show us why they are running this state on empty and what their plan is to fill up our tank.”

         So far, he said, “There’s been little done by the political establishment, except hearings in the state senate and a little interest from the attorney general on the issue of how oil refiners are leveraging their branded station contracts to drive up prices at the 85 percent of stations that are branded to keep gas prices artificially high when imports do come into this market.”

    Court added, “There’s been more tough talk than usual from the Senate, but no action to date. Hopefully we will get a bill introduced and moved in the next month, working on it right now.” 

        Finally, when we asked what’s next, Court responded, “If legislation doesn’t succeed, we are prepared to go to the ballot with Tom Steyer and others who want to put this question to Californians. Until then, we are all just victims of the market power oil refiners have exerted because 4 control nearly 80 percent of the market.”

        Steyer expressed a similar outlook at the press conference.

    “What’s going on is not right,” Steyer said. “If the legislature and the courts will not act, I believe the citizens will have to take matters into their own hands. We are determined to find a way to independently hold big oil accountable for these outrageous gas price. Nobody in LA, or anywhere in California should have to sacrifice their hard-earned living, while the well companies are multiplying their profits. Either there is something nefarious going on here, or the structure of the market itself is unacceptable. In either case, we need to fix the problem.”


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  • LB Man Killed in Brawl: RL NEWS Briefs Aug. 21, 2015

    LB Man Killed in Brawl

    LONG BEACH — On Aug. 18, a 22-year-old Junior Jimenez was struck with a bottle and stabbed multiple times with broken pieces from the bottle and during a brawl with another man on the 1100 block of E. 10th Street in Long Beach.

    Police responded to reports of a battery at about 9:11 p.m. The victim was taken to a local hospital but he was pronounced dead at 4:50 a.m. Aug. 19.

    The motive for the fight is still under investigation.

    Anyone with information regarding this incident is urged to call (562) 570-7244 or visit www.lacrimestoppers.org.

    LB Man Dies in Police Custody

    LONG BEACH — Seventy-one-year-old Michael Frank Smith died Aug. 18 in police custody.

    Smith was jailed Aug. 14 after violating a restraining order from his wife.

    Officers placed Smith under arrest on the charge of Violation of a Court Order. Smith was booked in the Long Beach City Jail on $20,000 bail awaiting arraignment.

    Long Beach Police Department officials said Smith went into medical distress on Aug. 16 and was taken to a local hospital. He was treated and given permission to return to jail. However, jail staff ended up finding him again in medical distress on Aug. 18. Jail medical personnel immediately rendered aid to Smith, administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, while awaiting the arrival of Long Beach Fire Department paramedics. Paramedics took Smith in critical condition to a local hospital.
    Officials are still uncertain as to the cause of the medical distress. Smith was released from custody and his treatment continued by hospital staff. However, he was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
    Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call (562) 570-7244.

    LB Civic Center Project Designs Released

    Designs for the Long Beach Civic Center project were unveiled at the Parks and Recreation Commission and Planning Commission meetings Aug. 20.
    Developers from Plenary Edgemoor detailed renderings. Plenary Edgemoor was awarded the bid in this past December.

    The public portions of the Long Beach Civic Center project include a new seismically safe Long Beach City Hall, Port of Long Beach headquarters and Main Library, along with a redesigned park. The private portions of the project include transit-oriented mixed-used developments, high-rise condominiums and retail.

    The details include stages for musical performances, a 6,500-square-foot dog park and a 4,500-square-foot playground area. The design proposal would open the civic center, having Chestnut and Cedar avenues run through the complex.

    About 25 to 35 people without homes hang out in the area. Long Beach Development Services is taking steps to mitigate the population before construction begins.

    The almost $360 million complex would include two, 11-story buildings for the city and the Port of Long Beach.
    The Civic Center project features lease-leaseback and design-bid-finance-operate-maintain public-private partnerships, which are designed to keep the city’s annual payment at about the same amount that the city pays for Civic Center maintenance and operation, as well as off-site leases, adjusted for future inflation. The renderings are not final.

    Former LASD Official Pleads Guilty to Lying

    LOS ANGELES — On Aug. 19, William Thomas Carey, a former captain with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, pleaded guilty to one count of making false declarations for lying on witness stand this past year during the federal trial of another LASD deputy.

    Carey, 57, who was the head of the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, pleaded guilty to the felony charge before U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. Carey is scheduled to be sentenced by Anderson on Jan. 25, at which time he will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

    Carey’s co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, is scheduled to go on trial in this case (see http://go.usa.gov/36awQ) on Nov. 3.

    LB Appoints New Director of Human Resources

    LONG BEACH — City Manager Pat West named Alejandrina Basquez, as the city’s human resources director.

    Basquez brings 26 years of professional experience in the public sector. The appointment will be effective September 8, 2015.

    Basquez has served as assistant general manager for the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department where she is responsible for overseeing a staff of 142 full-time employees and citywide programs, including employee benefits, deferred compensation, workers’ compensation benefits, occupational safety, and joint labor and management committees. Basquez is also responsible for the Personnel Department internal administrative and information systems support activities, a department operating budget of $54 million and a benefits budget of $671 million.

    Basquez is replacing Deborah Mills, who will retire as Director of Human Resources on Sept.11, 2015.
    Basquez earned her master of arts degree from the University of Chicago, and bachelor of arts degree from the University of California Irvine. She is originally from Long Beach and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. She resides in Long Beach with her family.

    St. Mary’s Appoints Chief Financial Officer

    LONG BEACH — On Aug. 20, Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach announced the appointment of Leon Choiniere as chief financial officer.

    Leon served as controller at St. Mary Medical Center since 2007. He brings to the executive team more than 30 years of hospital experience in accounting and financial operations.

    Leon earned his bachelor of science in business administration from Walla Walla College in Washington State. He is a certified public accountant and a fellow in Healthcare Financial Management Association. Leon is a resident of Long Beach and serves as the treasurer for his homeowner association.

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    Cozy, Comfort Food in Downtown Long Beach

    By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine and Restaurant Writer

    Going out to breakfast on the weekends is a big deal, but there are a lot of breakfast joints that just don’t have it figured out. That’s fine—we also don’t have to eat there. I have a hard time wrapping my head around paying $12 for eggs, bacon, toast, and dry (or way too greasy) potatoes that just don’t taste good. I’d rather stay in bed and chew on my arm.

    Whether it’s Long Beach, San Pedro, or anywhere in the Harbor Area, we all know the deal and we own it. We wait in line and don’t complain, because when we put our name down for a party of four, we know we’re waiting for greatness. And let’s be honest, if you drive past a place and no one is outside waiting, you probably shouldn’t be there.

    So, stop what you’re doing right now and go to Sweet Dixie Kitchen.

    I’m serious, you need to drop everything and go there. For those of you who haven’t tried it, you’re in for a treat. They do breakfast and lunch, and to say they do it well would be a severe understatement. They do it the best.

    Located in the Arts District in Long Beach, this cute-as-a-button eatery almost made me shed a tear. I swooned over the homemade scones, jams and coffee cake. Their pastries are adorably hand-crafted and delicately placed in a little display case that made me want to scoop everything up and run out the door like a kid in a candy store. I’m pretty sure I drooled; I should probably be embarrassed.

    I ordered inside and commandeered a little table. As plates emerged from the kitchen, I made some customers pause before eating just so my photographer could snap photos. We furiously uploaded all of this food porn onto Instagram. If you haven’t been following Random Lengths News on Instagram, this would be a good time to start.

    The food at Sweet Dixie Kitchen is like mom’s cooking, if she knew how to really get creative. It’s Southern, it’s comforting, but redefined to be lighter and healthier. They don’t use lard, or gross additives, or any other nonsense, for that matter. All of the recipes are developed in-house; everything is fresh and made with love and from the finest ingredients. If there are slices of turkey on your plate, it was roasted in their kitchen. It’s that kind of Southern taste, with the same passion, but without the heart attack.

    I hate using kitschy sayings like “family owned and operated” and “farm to table” but sometimes that’s the only way to explain the restaurant’s intent and execution. I will tell you this: Sweet Dixie Kitchen gives “family-owned and operated” a new meaning. The entire family down to their significant others runs this shop and you can taste the emotion, dedication and downright perfection that cranks the food out of this place.

    Kim Sanchez, the owner, opened her cozy eatery about two years ago, but that wasn’t her first jaunt in restaurant business. She married into the Mama’s of San Francisco family, a popular restaurant in the North Beach. Eventually the family moved to Atlanta, where she was the general manager of a Zagat-rated restaurant. A Francophile at heart, Kim started experimenting with different recipes that encompassed her love of French and Southern cuisines.

    Sweet Dixie’s breakfast sandwiches come in different shapes and sizes. BiscuitWitches and WaffleWitches are just what they sound like, and they are perfect in every way.

    Try the Brett’switch, a homemade biscuit sandwich with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese and spicy sausage gravy. The Sunrise Skillet is also amazing. Think rosemary home fries smothered with cheddar, scrambled eggs and house-made salsa. My favorite dish was the SOB: scrambled eggs with melted cheddar over zucchini cakes topped with tomatoes, black beans, avocado and homemade corn salsa. Don’t leave without trying the coffee cake or the scones. The scones are absolutely heavenly.

    I actually heard one guy say, “This is the best food of all time,” and then took a huge bite of DixieBBQ Chicken & Waffles—the craziest waffle sandwich I’ve ever seen.

    Sweet Dixie Kitchen is at 401 E. 3rd St., Long Beach
    Details: (562) 628-2253

    Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.

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  • Garden Church Growing an Urban Sanctuary

    By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer

    The bustling Friday farmers market in San Pedro was starting to close. The prayer garden was the first area I saw as I entered the Garden Church. Bedded in the west corner, a space for offerings blooms in perennials of red, yellow and pink. Ribbons of the same color are tied on the lattice. Here you can plant a seedling or tie a ribbon on the lattice as a tangible way to offer a prayer.

    The Garden Church is the inspiration of Rev. Anna Woofenden of the Swedenborgian Church. She has partnered with Green Girl Farms to create this space for the community. Green Girl Farms is a group whose mission is to create a system that provides communities with food grown locally. Green Girl Farms designed this space. It collaborates with the Garden Church to help maintain this site.

    The Garden Church is looking for interns and volunteers who can come weekly. People who not only want to come and participate, but also to help form it and hold it for others to come and participate.

    Within three months, a vacant dirt lot on 6th Street, which was occasionally utilized, was transformed into a bountiful vegetable garden for the community. We sat in the garden as Woofenden told me about the Garden Church’s vision, which is to feed and be fed.

    Ninety percent of this garden of edibles is grown from seed, right here in town. Lara Hughey from Green Girl Farms is the master gardener. Everything happens right here, including the compost, which they started this past January.

    Gatherings take place from 3 to 4 p.m. Sundays. The reverend says there’s always gardening to be done as well as art projects, music and ways of engaging with one another in this intergenerational space. At 4 p.m. they gather around the altar, befittingly a tree stump in the middle of a seating area with benches. They have worship along with singing, prayers, scripture readings and a message, and always have communion.

    Woofenden explained her calling, which over the years has been to reimagine what church can look like.

    “I’m the tail end of Generation X,” Woofenden said. “Many of my friends have left religion and I get that. But I haven’t given up on God or the need to come together in spiritual community. I’ve been asking, ‘What are the needs in the world?’ ‘What is it that the church can be to not just respond, but be in conversation to those needs?’ Four needs kept jumping out at me… We are disconnected from our food, from the earth, from each other, and from God.”

    She wanted to create a place where people could reconnect with putting their hands in the soil. To know where our food comes from and connect with people who wouldn’t interact otherwise across race, class and/or ideology.

    “I thought, what is the best human leveler?’” she said. “When we put our hands in the dirt, some of these other things just fade away.”

    The reverend is particularly interested in mixing different classes together, which she feels is needed. She calls it an urban sanctuary here, a hub where good transformation can happen individually and collectively.

    The Garden Church is kin to the Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes. Both are part of the same Christian-based denomination, the Swedenborgian Church of North America.

    “You can come here with any faith background or no faith background at all and you’re welcome and are a part of it,” Woofenden said. “We are not about conversion; we are about transformation.”

    “What I love about Southern California is everything grows here,” Hughey said. “In this garden alone we have chard, basil, zucchini, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, fennel and sage. Winter squash beets and corn are coming. You name it. We either already grew it or we are growing it.”

    Hughey believes education is very important and every time they open the gates in this garden it is an educational opportunity for San Pedro. Her expectations were surpassed.

    “We realized this space, given its proximity and location to the farmer’s market and being downtown, has just had such a synergistic effect on all of our goals here,” Hughey said. “So many people come in and interact with the soil and each other that this would not necessarily have happened in another location. I’m impressed. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

    “We hope to be doing this work here for a long time,” Woofenden said. “Whether it’s physically in this spot, or not, is unknown. This is a big experiment but we are very committed to this community and feeding and look forward to partner with anyone who wants to be part of that.”

    The Garden Church is open on First Thursdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 3 to 6 p.m. The Garden Church builds out the hours as volunteers come. Its lease started May 1 and goes through the end of October 2015.

    Details: http://gardenchurchsp.org/


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  • Fear and Loathing of Transitional Housing

    By Ivan Adame, RLn Contributor

    Homelessness is one of those intractable problems that requires bold action rather than words. That’s the main takeaway from the controversial Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council meeting that took place Aug. 11.

    During that meeting, the council voted unanimously to turn its ad hoc committee on homelessness into a standing committee and allow it to move forward with the Tiny Houses project in San Pedro.

    Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council President James Allen said that the council support for the Tiny Houses project didn’t involve financial or any other material support, but rather it was a statement of moral support for the homes and the search for a suitable location for them other than on city streets.

    The tiny houses on wheels, built by the charity Helping the Homeless In Need in San Pedro, exist on legally ambiguous grounds. On one hand, the Harbor Division of the Los Angeles Police Department says the structures, which are about the size of a small car, are illegal on public streets. Yet, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has not yet spoken on the legality of the structures. Proponents argue that the tiny houses on wheels, like motor vehicles, can stay in one location for 72 hours before having to move again.

    In his written motion to the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee, 15th District City Councilman Joe Buscaino requested from the city attorney “to report on the legality of the placement of such structures in both the public right-of-way and on private property, and recommend removal protocol for city departments to follow.”

    Up until the emergence of the tiny houses, there was no action locally or otherwise on providing transitional housing for people who are on the verge of attaining permanent housing.

    During the meeting, Karen Ceaser, head of Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s homeless committee, said that even under the best circumstances, it still takes several months to make the transition from living on the streets to living in permanent housing.

    Ceaser points out that the majority of homeless people on the streets have already been reached by the agencies in town—such as Harbor Interfaith Services and the Department of Mental Health—and registered into a coordinated entry system that matches them with a home.

    “Just because the form gets filled out for them, [permanent housing solutions] doesn’t happen overnight,” Ceaser explained. “These tiny houses we’ve been building [are] merely transitional housing. It’s just us trying to provide them that temporary housing so they don’t have to live on the street. It will be turned over once they go to permanent housing.”

    The only other solution that’s been offered has been Council District 15’s order of homeless sweeps and bulky item clean-ups. The people who were swept away tended to return a few days later.

    Meanwhile, the tiny houses, a step in the direction of creating transitional housing, had already come to the attention of area residents the previous week, following social media postings about them and their occupants near the San Pedro Post Office on Beacon Street, which generated hundreds of comments ranging from concerned to vitriolic. Volunteers working with Helping the Homeless In Need have reported being pelted with rocks by assailants because of their work.

    The comments at the neighborhood council meeting largely mirrored the comments on Facebook.

    One public commenter called San Pedro “a haven for druggies, thieves and ne’er- do-wells that have no interest in seeking public assistance…” and blamed them for the increasing crime rates.

    “You are not helping them [by] putting these tiny houses out,” someone wrote.

    Another person wrote that, “A large majority of them…don’t care. They get everything for free, so why get a job? Everything comes to them for free.”

    Ceaser said she had been working with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s policy director on homelessness, Greg Spiegel, since before the Aug. 11 meeting.

    “He is going to propose to them that this be looked at as an interim innovative project throughout the City of Los Angeles,” Ceaser said.

    However, San Pedro is not the only place the tiny homes have been popping up. The tiny structures have been popping up around downtown Los Angeles, as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Elvis Summers, the 38-year-old founder of the charity Starting Human, has been building these tiny homes for the homeless in South East Los Angeles.

    He built his first tiny home for his neighbor, a 61-year-old Irene McGhee, who was sleeping in the dirt. The home is complete with a door and a lock. A time-lapsed video of the creation of the home went viral on social media and has led to more than $84,000 in private donations on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe to fund more tiny shelters.

    Ceaser invited Summers to the homeless committee meeting late July, where he gave a presentation.

    Inspired by the presentation, homeless advocates, Helping the Homeless In Need, along with Ceaser, formed a team to build a tiny home for a local homeless person. Since then, they have spent every weekend building new homes for those in need.

    Nora Vela of Helping the Homeless In Need said that the first recipient of the tiny home in San Pedro has already transitioned into permanent housing.

    The second person to receive a tiny home is Francis, a 61-year-old woman who lives with her West Highland White Terrier named Scottie. She has applied for housing two years ago and is now seeking approval for a Section 8 voucher.

    “They figured that I needed it,” Francis said. “I did need it. It’s scary out there when you’re a lady. It’s a godsend. I can put my blankets on the floor. When you lay on the cement, it’s bad for you. I have a sciatic nerve and two bad discs in my back. Cement drains you.”

    Despite the public backlash, the very presence of the tiny homes is spurring action on the issue.

    A community forum on homelessness is scheduled for Sept. 3, at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.


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  • A Long Journey from Brighton Beach

    Terminal Island—Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
    Most of you have probably never heard of Brighton Beach. The name kind of conjures up images of languid summers in the South Hamptons, where wealthy families escape their mansions in the city for a vacation.

    Most people in San Pedro don’t even question the designation on the numbered streets indicating west 6th Street, as if there were an east part of that street somewhere past the Main Channel.

    And if you stand up on the hill overlooking the vast industrial complex of the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, it might be incomprehensible to imagine that Terminal Island was once the preferred escape destination for the wealthiest of Los Angeles’ very rich and famous.

    Terminal Island circa 1900, as recounted by former Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz, and Naomi Hirahara, in their book of the same name, was just such a beach resort town that offered large beachfront homes, grand hotels, sport fishing and yachting. Long before the canneries and shipyards—decades before the POLA became the No. 1 container port in North America–San Pedro, or at least that part of it, was “gentrified.”

    Long, sloping sandy beaches allowed for wading far out from shore with warm water and no riptides, and thousands of Angelinos made the excursion on passenger trains directly from downtown, a convenience that no longer exists today.

    Nearby, and directly across from what is now the San Pedro waterfront, was the town of East San Pedro. And, a little farther south, toward the jetty that connected the island with Deadman’s Island (which was demolished to widen the channel in 1929), was where the “not so well-to-do” squatted on idyllic waterfront property for free.

    These were a hearty, stubborn group of bohemians, outcasts, loners, artists and intellectuals who lived on stilted shacks made of driftwood and discarded lumber. They could fish from their front porches, according to Knatz and Hirahara, in this biologically diverse and plentiful bay.

    The famous journalist, poet and founder of the Southwest Museum, Charles Lummis, was one of the luminary squatters across from what now is Ports O’ Call.

    You couldn’t quite call these people “homeless.” They had constructed their tiny homes along what was unused land, but they didn’t pay any taxes and none carried a mortgage. What a life.

    Terminal Island recounts how at low tide, the residents of San Pedro could casually wade across the Main Channel to go fishing or swimming on the island, long before it was dredged. All of this started to change when the towns of San Pedro and Wilmington voted narrowly to annex to the “octopus” of Los Angeles.

    If LA was going to be the big city of its chamber of commerce’s booster-ish dreams, it needed a major seaport, a harbor, even if 26 miles distant from City Hall. And the “big dream” of Los Angeles would have consumed the rest of the harbor and most of Long Beach, if the founders of that city across the bay had not fought back and built their own harbor. Their resistance proved more fruitful when oil was discovered there.

    The boom years between the annexation to Los Angeles in 1909 and the stock market crash of 1929 brought major changes to this harbor area. First, squatters along the Main Channel were evicted, the railroads purchased the land rights to wharfs in the harbor and Deadman’s Island was demolished.

    If you look around at most of the older parts of the communities surrounding the San Pedro Bay, the dominant architecture is of this period. But the past is never dead.

    With the dream of an industrial harbor, both cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach invested hundreds of millions of dollars, which was matched with federal dollars to build this vast port complex. These two ports now handle more than 40 percent of all imports into North America—cargo with an estimated value of $200 billion a year.

    This investment allowed Southern California to become the economic epicenter of Pacific Rim trade. The effort was visionary, but it came at a cost—decades of environmental destruction that only recently is being addressed after community activists fought back and sued the cities.

    The memory of Terminal Island, East San Pedro and Brighton Beach still exists in the subconscious of both San Pedro and Long Beach like a dream. The resonance of what came before is somehow instilled in this place and resurfaces with those who argue for “gentrification” of certain parts of these cities, while others hold stubbornly to a different vision of bohemian art culture.

    Both of these perspectives are competing against the economic imperative of international trade, global economics and the power of the city of Los Angeles.

    Oddly enough, Terminal Island was released almost at the same time as George and Carmela Cunningham’s Port Town—published by their respective harbor departments within months of each other. One seems to be the counterpoint to the other—two versions of the same history.

    In the end, however, both are documents of a drive spanning more than 100 years to industrialize the two ports—a drive that came at the expense of limiting citizen access to the waterfront and non-industrial uses, accompanied by environmental destruction of the San Pedro Bay.

    Sometimes, I look out over this vast harbor and imagine what might have been if our civic leaders weren’t in such a mad rush for profit. An astute reader will realize that the commercial success of the harbors has come at the expense of these competing visions. Terminal Island—Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor tells us how this happened.

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  • Tianjin Tragedy Shakes Up Local Concerns

    Frightening Parallels with Threat Posed by Rancho Storage Tanks

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On Aug. 5, after months of delay, a group of citizens concerned about the public safety threat posed by Rancho LPG met with Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka and staff members.

    “Mr. Seroka expressed his abiding commitment to the safety and security of the port complex, as well as the surrounding communities,” said port spokesman Phillip Sanfield. “The group had an opportunity to share its views and concerns regarding Rancho LPG. Port senior staff is reviewing the information provided and will follow up in writing with the group.”

    Rancho LPG is a liquefied petroleum storage facility located near the confluence of Gaffey Street and the 110 Freeway.

    Local activists Janet Gunter, Noel Weiss and Adrian Martinez and other participants expressed cautious optimism in the immediate aftermath of the meeting. But a deadly explosion in the Chinese port city of Tianjin, just one week later, Aug. 12, renewed a looming sense of urgency and impending threat.

    “Why is 25 million gallons of highly explosive butane and propane gases being stored within 1,000 feet (333 yards) of residences, schools, shops and public highway?” Gunter asked in an email linking to a story about the Chinese blast. “Why is it allowed to sit on the inner harbor, threatening the destruction of both ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach…and all of those within a 3-mile blast radius?”

    Although entirely different explosive agents were involved, there were still strong parallels between the Tianjin blast—with a death toll now at 114, including 39 firefighters—and a possible disaster scenario at Rancho LPG.

    “China on Friday defended firefighters who initially hosed water on a blaze in a warehouse storing volatile chemicals, a response foreign experts said could have contributed to two huge blasts that killed 56 people,” Reuters reported. “Chemical safety experts said calcium carbide reacts with water to create acetylene, a highly explosive gas. An explosion could be caused if firefighters sprayed the calcium carbide with water, they said.”

    “Calcium carbide CaC2 and water react to make acetylene, C2H2, which is the material in welding torches,” said retired oil industry consultant Connie Rutter. “So, whatever first caused an explosion, when firemen trained water on more calcium carbide, they increased the explosion, rather than preventing it.”

    This recalls Rancho’s ill-considered reliance on the standard response, fire-fighting foam, which is generally effective against gasoline fires, but is not recommended for LPG fire, as Random Lengths reported in June 2012.

    “The reason is that foam is warmer than the liquid butane, which is not yet evaporated, and hastens evaporation, and therefore, burning,” Rutter explained at the time. “There are lots of parallels between the risk from Rancho and the explosion in Tianjin….For one thing, they’re both in port facilities, but Rancho’s position has the added threat of being a good target for terrorists, because an explosion of even one of the smaller ‘bullet’ tanks would do damage to the port property nearby.”

    The multiple tanks also set up the risk of multi-explosion disaster, as occurred at Tianjin. Rutter also noted that the position of the bullet tanks violates industry standards which require them to be lined up so that if they explode and become “airborne, like a jet plane,” they cannot hit passerbys.

    “Rancho’s bullets line up with the ball field,” she pointed out. “As people near the site in Tianjin describe the explosion, they talk about feeling the first pressure wave.  This is what would also happen if a butane tank—the large ones at Rancho—were to release its contents…. Although initially the liquid would be caught in the impound basin, it would very rapidly vaporize as it picks up heat from the air and the ground, and increase 230 times in size.

    “This rapid increase in volume would first form a pressure wave, invisible, but strong enough to knock things over…. This will happen before it ignites! If it finds a source of ignition—even a static charge, or car engine—it will form a fiery explosion. Now, that extra heat will cause whatever butane has not already evaporated to evaporate, creating a pool fire. This unfolding, multistage disaster is very much like what occurred in Tianjin,” Rutter noted.

    “Other similarities between the Tianjin site and Rancho are that the public was closer to the site than the Chinese environmental rules allow,” according to the New York Times report.  “There are no limits to how close people should be allowed to live in the U.S. rules…but the American Petroleum Institute standard holds that no tank or equipment should be closer than 200 feet from the facility border. Rancho fails that on 3 sides. This reflects the fact that it’s never gone through a permit review by the city.”

    Finally, Rutter noted that both here and in Tianjin the rules on the books fail to protect the people.

    “That’s not surprising in a totalitarian system like China, but we’re a democracy,” she said. “We should expect to be protected, for the rules to be transparent and for them to be enforced. But that’s not been the case.”

    “In the wake of China’s massive destruction, deaths and casualties in their port city…and recently what seems like a never-ending stream of ruptured pipelines, toxic contamination and devastating explosions and fires…our society’s reckless ambivalence to disaster prevention appears to be catching up with us!” Homeowner activist Janet Gunter wrote in an email after the explosion. “By their own admission…Plains All American Pipeline, AKA Rancho LPG, in LA’s Harbor area stores…(at their 42-year-old, 25- million-gallon butane and propane gas storage location) the energy equivalent…of over 50 atomic bombs…all on the back doorstep of pre-existing homes and schools, on the precipice of the 110 Freeway, within one-quarter-mile of the inner harbor of the Port of LA…and amazingly a mere 150 feet of the ‘active’ Palos Verdes Fault (magnitude 7.3) on [U.S. Geological Survey] designated ‘landslide’ and ‘liquefaction’ areas….Its two massive 12.5 million gallon butane tanks were built without building permits over 4 decades ago to a seismic substandard of 5.5, the email noted.

    “When will the relentless disregard for public safety end? When will the political “will” to prevent these cataclysmic losses kick in?”

    On Aug. 17, Sanfield provided additional assurances of port safety, in contrast with Tianjin.

    “The Port of Los Angeles works with all levels of government as well as other maritime stakeholders to inspect and monitor hazardous materials coming into the port complex,” he said.

    He ticked off a long list of agencies, starting with Homeland Security and the Coast Guard.

    “Through a variety of federal, state and local laws, as well as inspection and enforcement procedures, the agencies work collaboratively to keep the port complex safe,” he said. “All dangerous cargo that passes through the port requires a permit….Tankers and hazardous materials coming into the port are inspected by the Los Angeles Fire Department. Additionally, explosive shipments are inspected by Port Police hazmat units. Additional preventative, inspection and safety measures are handled by Customs and Border Protection, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security.

    “If an incident were to take place, all the above-mentioned agencies train regularly through a unified command model to react swiftly with whatever resources are necessary…. This multilayer agency prevention and inspection approach makes the port complex as prepared as possible to prevent an accident and respond with appropriate resources if one were to occur.”

    As for the Tianjin tragedy, Sanfield said, “Details have yet to be confirmed but it appears that exceeding large volumes of multiple hazardous materials were stored in a factory-like setting.  Partner agencies here will dissect information as it becomes available from China and review for lessons that may be applied in the port complex.”

    “In truth, the port has performed a mammoth job in the coordination of container inspections and the litany of regulatory obligations set forth to protect it on that level,” said Gunter, in response. “No small job to be sure. That does not go unnoticed nor unappreciated by community residents.

    “However, there appears to be a huge gaping hole in their guardianship…. A simple look at the Plains All American Pipeline-operated Rancho LPG facility and its storage proximity (within one quarter-mile of the port) of over 25 million gallons of highly explosive butane and propane gases, clues you into the incredible vulnerability of the port from the mere presence of it,” Gunter said.

    There are “two rubs” here for the local communities, Gunter said.

    First, “The port introduced this hazardous and highly explosive operation into our community over 40 years ago, (without a public process and exempting it from various regulations) and then more than a decade ago terminated its ocean shipping opportunity based on the much delayed realization that it was a ‘far too dangerous cargo’ to be shipped out of their port.”

    Second, Gunter said, “When the port refused to renew the pipeline to the ocean shipping wharf, which transported 68 percent of its gas by sea, the facility’s business model changed “dramatically” with the gas suddenly shifted entirely to transport by rail and truck.  This major change should have triggered a new environmental impact report, but, did not.”

    The rail transport now used is “more inherently dangerous” than the pipeline was, but nothing’s been done to protect the community—in stark contrast to how much effort is put into other safety measures such as those Sanfield laid out.

    Chinese officials have promised a thorough investigation into the causes of the Tianjin tragedy. So far, American officials have promised nothing better than to protect Harbor Area neighbors of Rancho LPG.

    So far. But there’s still hope that this will change.

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  • Sister Corita

    Seeds of Renewal, the Language of Pop

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Beginning Sept. 3, Marymount California University, in collaboration with the Corita Art Center and fINdings Art Center, will present Be the Change: The Corita Experience, an exhibition at the Klaus Center in San Pedro that surveys the work of artist, activist and educator Sister Corita Kent.

    More than 60 pieces of Sister Corita’s vibrant pop art serigraphs will be featured in the show, reflecting her passion for tearing down the walls that separate people, confronting injustice and promoting peace.

    Sister Corita’s work has been traveling around the world since about 2011, but “now is the time” for its message to really transmit, said Annette Ciketic, director of fINDings.

    I wanted a firsthand understanding of Sister Corita from those who knew her and had a relationship with her. I have found that many lionized heroes of the left, after many decades, tend to get diced, sliced, repackaged and then mass-distributed in a form palatable enough that even old, ideological foes can stomach and regurgitated at their convenience. That is, if they weren’t forgotten. I suspected that was part of the reason Sister Corita’s work has been touring around the world for the past few years.

    Annette is one of several San Pedro alumni of Immaculate Heart College, whose class graduated during the 1960s. The college, which operated in the Hollywood Hills, closed in 1981. Through Annette, I met her fellow alum and Sister Corita student, Laurine DiRocco. Laurine was named educator and artist of the year by the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce women’s conference this year.

    Both Laurine and Annette are dedicated to art and teaching other teachers using Sister Corita’s methods. Neither are gallery artists.

    These teaching methods eliminate the barrier between student and teacher and posits that a learning environment conducive to excellence can be achieved through diligence, hard work and engagement between students and teachers.

    Annette recalled Sister Corita telling her students, “I don’t want you to copy me. I want you to become the best you are.”

    “There was a famous [often repeated Balinese] quote in our art department, ‘We have no art. We do everything as well as we can,’” Annette explained.

    Annette recalled how Sister Corita and her class created their own rules.

    “We sat in class one day; it was in a space about like this,” Laurine said, carving an invisible three-dimensional space with her finger that included Annette’s office to the edge of the sidewalk outside. Annette then read off from a list of Sister Corita’s general rules for teaching, which Annette and Laurine abide by to this day:

    • Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

    • General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

    • General duties of a teacher: pull everything out of your students.

    • Consider everything, and then experiment.

    • Be self-disciplined. This means finding someone wise or smart and following them. Be disciplined and follow in a good way. Self-discipline is to follow in a better way.

    • Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win or lose, there’s only make.

    • The only rule is work.

    • Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They are two different processes.

    • Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think. There’s always a sense of celebration.

    • We’re breaking all of the rules, even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.


    Annette read the “Helpful Hints” addendum to the rules. They included: “Always be around, come and go to everything; always go to classes; read anything you can get your hands on and look at movies carefully and often; save everything—it might come in handy later; there should be new rules next week.”

    I found the first rule the most intriguing. It was also the one I remembered the most clearly. Annette’s and Laurine’s description of their time at Immaculate Heart College made the idea of “place” seem like something more than a physical location. It was as if the word “place” was really a description of a relationship.

    “We were always a school without walls,” Annette explained. “Every Friday in the art department, we’d go somewhere as a group. It might be Buckminster Fuller’s house, Charles Hughes’ house, Mark C. Bloome’s place [and] other famous people’s homes… the park, the beach…”

    “She’s always giving us ways to see bigger, deeper, more…” Laurine added.

    Laurine recalled Sister Corita took her class to a car and tire shop in Beverly Hills owned by the wealthy entrepreneur Mark C. Bloome. It took up a whole city block. Sister Corita gave each of the students 35mm slides with the film cut out, called “findings” to frame the details of what they saw in ways they never saw before.

    “When you’re looking through something like that [the finding]…rather than getting this whole room, I can get a portion of this whole room,” said Laurine, attempting to explain the shift in perspective that comes from focusing your attention on a particular detail of an object.

    “We get out of our cars with our findings, people are getting gas, people are getting tires and we’re doing this,” said Laurine as she joined her left thumb and index finger with her right to form the square of a finding.

    “[Later] I realized I learned to see…that without the card… I would be driving along and I would be talking and then I would stop and say, ‘Look at that,’” Laurine said, describing the experience of seeing something new in a scene she had numerous times before from a different perspective.

    Finding Sister Corita

    Like the environment out of which Sister Corita matured as an artist and scholar, in which she helped foster her students during the late 1950s and ‘60s, her life’s work was a world without walls. Her medium of choice was serigraphy (silkscreen), a process that lends itself to mass production with the potential of reaching more people and traveling further than one-off fine art meant for gallery spaces.

    Her oeuvre was pop art. Andy Warhol’s 1962 iconic exhibition of Campbell’s soup cans was lightening in a bottle to Sister Corita. It opened up the possibility of inserting layers of meaning to the viewer, whose subconscious is already bombarded with advertising imagery.

    Sister Corita’s work was very much tuned in to the politics, culture and societal moment of the 1960s. Whether it was Civil Rights or the anti-war movement, she engaged it the best way she knew how: first through her teaching. When she left the order, she kept up that engagement through her art.

    My conversation with Annette and Laurine reminded me of conversations I have had with my greatest teachers in my academic life—teachers I’ve called close friends and mentors. This was the kind of relationship Annette and Laurine had with Sister Corita. I realize that I couldn’t fully appreciate Sister Corita’s legacy without understanding to some degree the environment in which she matured intellectually and professionally at Immaculate Heart.

    Annette and Laurine and I did not have enough time to talk about this part of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sister Corita’s legacy, but they recommended that I read the first-person account of Dr. Anita Caspary, who served as the order’s mother superior during this turbulent transitional period of the church.

    Sister Corita joined the order in 1936, earning advanced degrees in art and art history. What’s really important about Sister Corita’s biography is that she was a teacher inside the order during the period of transformation—almost in anticipation of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI’s call for renewal of the church and the opening of Vatican Council II.

    One of the key things the Vatican Council II called for was experimentation on adapting religious life within the order and outside of it. This was to engage modernity while doing all that they were called to do as Christians.

    That also meant addressing injustice, inequality, and suffering even as they shared their faith. This change meant changes in prayer life, favoring the vernacular as opposed to Latin to communicate with the faithful, connecting authority to service and movement away from the kind of clericalism that can emerge in a 2,000-year-old institution.

    I can’t say that Sister Corita intentionally worked to be an activist. She was the tip of a sword that pricked all things unjust. The first conflict came from her religious art, which began to capture attention by the late 1950s, but was considered sacrilegious. Another seminal event that drew Sister Corita into conflict was the attention garnered by the 1964 Mary’s Day celebration.

    The order organized the annual event that included a day of prayer and procession dedicated to Mary, as mother of God. The event was a fairly dour and low-key affair that would end with an evening procession winding up the college hill on the campus, and a crown of flowers would be placed on the statue of Mary by a specially chosen student.

    That year, Sister Corita was asked by the college president to create a new Mary’s Day festivity that celebrated the real woman Mary of Nazareth, as opposed to the solemn event it used to be. This break from tradition caused conflict with the traditionalist male hierarchy of the church and the order.

    This very public dispute led to the removal of all Immaculate Heart sisters teaching in Los Angeles diocesan schools, who were given an ultimatum: either conform to the standards of traditional religious life, or seek dispensation from vows. Annette noted that about 90 percent of the sisters that held advanced degrees in the order chose to leave their vows and reorganize as a nonprofit lay organization, the Immaculate Heart Community.

    In many respects, the forces with which the sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary had to contend were similar to the forces of Jim Crow, American exceptionalism and imperialism, and the patriarchy that allowed celibate priests to dictate when and where nuns should pray and the kinds of habits they should wear.

    The order, Immaculate Heart of Mary, ceased being a canonized order. As a lay community, it thrives and arguably it better fulfills the order’s desire to achieve what the Vatican Council II called them to do as part of the renewal of the church: comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, and extend the hand of friendship to all who need it.

    I asked Annette why we are now remembering Sister Corita Kent. But I know the answer: her work has never stopped being relevant.

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  • LBMA Misses Opportunity

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    It wasn’t that long ago that street art was just considered the scribbles of street vandals on private property. In the past few decades these “vandals” have become “artists,” and their works have moved from the street to the interior walls of art galleries and museums. The Long Beach Museum of Art was the latest venue to exhibit such art, called “Vitality and Verve.”

    When the Long Beach Museum of Art decided to host the exhibit, curators seemed to be unaware of the origins and intentions of street art, which is to attract attention toward a cause, or to be used as a form of provocation.

    Street artist Saber achieved that goal with one mural in particular, “Too Many Names.” In contrast to the aesthetically appealing murals in the rest of the museum, Saber’s mural confronts an unsettling subject with a grizzly artistry. His monumental mural covering an entire wall, contains the names of the more than 557 people killed by police in the United States in 2015. The names, written in the spray painted technique of taggers – and emblazoned with the name of Long Beach tagger Hector Morejon – is controversial for it’s subject matter and its stylistic symbology.

    In the midst of a timely and national conversation about victims of police shootings, the museum passed on an opportunity to participate in the dialog. The question remains: Why is this mural so controversial for the Long Beach museum?

    “I think at first it was difficult to absorb,” Saber said. “This particular piece draws a line in the sand between people who support the museum and people who support the artists,”

    The suspicion is that donors are uncomfortable with the subject matter. When a reception was planned on July 31 for members of the group Families for Justice, the museum slammed on the brakes. The families invited the press to help promote the young organization and the issue of police shootings in the nation, particularly shootings in Long Beach. The group was founded by the families of Morejon, whose name is in bold blue letters, as well as the families of Donte Jordan, and Feras Morad, who was killed when he experienced an extreme reaction to psychedelic mushrooms.

    The press was greeted by a museum employee who passed out a statement from the museum that read: “The Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) is not affiliated with Families for Justice: LBC. The press release that was issued by Families of Justice: LBC on July 31, 2015 was not approved by the Museum nor does it reflect its views.”

    A request for an interview with the museum director was met with an emailed statement. Aug. 7, which read:

    “The media was not barred from the museum. There were several of them here on campus with Saber and the organization Families for Justice. Some of them took photos of the group in front of the mural, which we allowed. Since we are not affiliated with Families for Justice we conveyed to Saber that we would not allow any interviews conducted on campus regarding the formation of their organization.”

    “It shocked me (that they wouldn’t allow interviews in the museum). When somebody else is paying your bills, I guess you have got to toe the line.” said Michael Brown, a member of Families for Justice. “I’m sure media has come into the museum before. This issue is in the headlines and it’s not going away. We are glad that they showed enough fortitude to leave Saber’s work on the wall. There’s 557 names on that wall. People are being exposed to this problem.”

    Pamela Fields, mother of Donte Jordan, was hopeful that her son’s story could be told that day through the mural. The families had grouped together for support following the devastation and loss of their loved ones.

    “I felt alone, like nobody felt my pain,” Fields said. “I needed to be one-on-one with the mothers of those killed. In Long Beach, police brutality is our reality.”

    They want the police department to know that families have been affected. After her son was shot 10 times in the back, and twice more on the ground, she lost her job as a nurse and Fields found herself homeless for 19 months.

    During this citywide exhibit, 21 artists were invited to participate. The mural project is presented in collaboration with Thinkspace and Pow! Wow! Ron Nelson, museum director, described an effort to spotlight artists who are stepping out of their studios to paint on a grand scale using outdoor walls as their canvas, as well as urban artists who are beginning to work in a traditional studio setting.

    Muralists were not simply given access to the museum walls. As a result of this exhibit, murals cover walls all over the city. The stunning murals have added the desired aesthetic to downtown Long Beach. Street art has become more accepted by the general public due to its artistic recognition, and the high-profile status of Banksy and other graffiti artists. This has led street art to become tourist attractions in many cities.

    “Street art is very popular right now,” Saber said. “It is used as a vehicle for gentrification. It’s something that looks great on T-shirts and it looks great on Coca-Cola bottles. I’m happy that it has opened doors for the artists, but it has watered down our message. At the end of the day, this was never meant to be commodified. This was meant as a way to express ourselves on our own terms.”

    Saber was especially drawn to the tragic death of Hector Morejon, a 19-year-old, who was killed while tagging. Although Saber is an internationally recognized artist, he began as a tagger, leaving his marks on trash cans.

    “I felt an affinity to Hector because he was killed tagging,” he said. “I have had friends killed tagging. I talked to his family and he was not a gang member. He had no gang affiliations. He was a kid trying to fashionably fit into his environment.”

    The artist is concerned that, since this genre of art has achieved popularity, many have turned their backs on the roots of the work. Young taggers take inspiration from renowned artists such as Saber. Street art exists worldwide. Cities and towns throughout the world are home to street art communities, from which pioneering artists emerge. It is in every city now, but taggers are still being killed for misdemeanor infractions.

    “We’ve turned our backs on them,” the artist said. “It’s not cool to be them.”

    Saber considers it a victory that his mural remains on the wall of the museum. Although he is grateful that his art remains, he admits that during the weeklong installation, concessions were made. The artist was asked to change the color of Hector’s name from red to blue and was not allowed to add finishing touches that were meant to create a memorial at the foot of the mural. Most troubling, his artist’s statement was taken down off the wall. In the world of conceptual art, the artist’s statement serves to summarize the artist’s message. Random Lengths News has decided to print his statement in entirety for our readers. See “Too Many Names

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    Editors Note: the following artist’s statement was disallowed by Long Beach Museum of Art :

    In 2015 there have been 534 people killed by police in America and the year is not over. This is not a fully compiled list. These numbers are not unusual as every year hundreds of people’s lives are senselessly cut short due to the violent tactics implemented by these officers. Hundreds of millions of dollars are paid out to the victims’ families in civil suits at the expense of the taxpayers.

    To be fair, police have a difficult job. Most of the time their good deeds go unnoticed. This is a thankless job. In some cases the killing of another person is justified if it means another life is saved.

    Of course, it is easy to blame the bad apples within the police force but unfortunately the statistics speak for themselves. These numbers are so consistently overwhelming that the conclusion leads this discussion away from the individual officers to the bigger problems within the system and structure in which they are trained.

    If the tools given to these officers were more focused on de-escalation as opposed to “shoot first and ask questions later,” then thousands of lives could be saved as well as millions of taxpayer dollars.

    New body camera legislation is being put forth, which could help lead to more transparency, saving lives in the end as well as millions in taxpayer dollars. Billions of dollars worth of military equipment, as well as the failed “War On Drugs” campaign, has led to the police acting as an occupying force within our communities.

    The relationship between the police and the communities they serve are strained to a breaking point. Long Beach is no exception to this strain on the community. In the last couple of months, two young people have been tragically killed in violent circumstances due to these police tactics. Both of these kids were unarmed and posed no threat to the officers. If only restraint and tactics of de-escalation were implemented then maybe these young lives could have been saved.

    The mantra “To Protect and Serve” gives us the feeling that we could trust these officers in these difficult circumstances. But until the system is overhauled, this vicious cycle will continue and the body count will only grow.

    — Saber



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