• LA City Council Gets on Road to Minimum Wage Increase

    LOS ANGELES — On May 19, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to request that the city attorney prepare and present an ordinance that establishes a citywide minimum wage.

    The provisions of the ordinance need would begin July 1, 2016 increasing annually from $10.50 in 2016 to $12 in 2017, $13.25 in 2018, $14.25 in 2019 and $15 in 2020.

    Businesses with $25 or fewer employees would begin the new minimum wage schedule starting July 1, 2017. Nonprofits with 25 or fewer employee will also have the same modified schedule or may apply for a waiver through the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Contract Administration if their top executive earns less than eight times the wage of the lowest paid worker and if they serve transitional employees or are primarily funded by state or federal reimbursements that are more than 50 percent of their payroll.

    “Today, help is on the way for the one million Angelenos who live in poverty,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti in a press release. ” I started this campaign to raise the minimum wage to create broader economic prosperity in our city and because the minimum wage should not be a poverty wage in Los Angeles.”

    Rep. Janice Hahn agreed.

    “With this vote, Los Angeles becomes a leader in the movement to pay fair wages, support our workers, and fight poverty,” she said. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour helps ensure that no one who works hard at a full-time job lives on the brink of poverty.”

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  • Long Beach Innovation Team Members Chosen

    LONG BEACH — On May 18, Mayor Robert Garcia announced that Long Beach has hired its first Innovation Team (i-team).

    The team, funded by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, will function as an in-house research and development unit. The i-team will focus first on economic development, advising the City on how best to stimulate growth, create jobs, and leverage City resources, including through online delivery of City services.
    The i-team will also help the city develop and implement solutions to improve city services, enhance civic engagement, and improve neighborhoods and business districts.

    The i-team will use a data-driven process to assess problems, generate solutions and deliver measurable results.
    Long Beach will receive $3 million over three years from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The new i-team includes Innovation Team Director John Keisler; Innovation Deputy Ryan Murray; Researcher Holly Okonkwo; Programmer Alex Chavez; Innovation Fellows Alma Castro, Eric Romero and Heidi Wiersma; and Designmatters Fellow Chase Airmet.
    i-team Backgrounds:
    John Keisler, Innovation Team Director: After completing bachelor degrees in philosophy and religion at St. Olaf College, Keisler joined Teach For America, teaching middle school English and civics in Newark, N.J. To address the chronic community challenges facing his students, he turned to a career in city management, working with the League of California Cities and completing his master of public administration at the USC Price School of Public Policy.  In 2005, Keisler was hired as a management assistant by the City of Long Beach, and rotated through four departments. Over the next few years, he led multiple change-management projects throughout the city, serving as the Animal Care Services Bureau Manager, Business Operations Manager for the Parks, Recreation & Marine Department, and CFO for the Police Department.  He has lived in Long Beach for the past 12 years.
    Ryan Murray, Innovation Deputy: Murray worked in government and nonprofit settings in New York City for more than 15 years, after moving from his childhood home of Barbados. His career has focused on building partnerships to address social and economic justice issues and create opportunity for those most vulnerable. Most recently, he worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office. There he oversaw external affairs, and learning and change management for innovation initiatives designed to reduce administrative burdens faced by human services providers, and to improve residents’ access to programs and benefits. Murray has also served as a direct social service and HIV/AIDS education practitioner, community organizer and capacity building manager for a city agency which administered youth, workforce and community development programs.  He earned a master’s in public health degree from Hunter College, City University of New York.
    Holly Okonkwo, Researcher: Okonkwo is a cultural anthropologist specializing in issues of diversity and change in the United States. Her work and research focus on the broad question of the origins of social inequity and ways to systemically better the lives of others through the use of mixed methods and developing innovative research projects. She has explored gender and class disparities in science education, labor and technological innovation in Southern California, Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.   Okonkwo completed her doctorate in cultural anthropology at the University of California Riverside. She also has a master’s in education policy, serves on the Committee for Gender Equity in Anthropology, and volunteers on a number of committees and mentorship programs in her local community.
    Alex Chavez, Programmer: Chavez is a software developer who graduated from Cabrillo High School and California State University Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2013. Previously, he worked as a programmer analyst at Kaiser Permanente solving problems in IT infrastructure and implementing innovative solutions for displaying and analyzing data.  Using a customer-centered approach, he has demonstrated the ability to work with a variety of systems and stakeholders, and to use technology to simplify complex processes. Upon realizing that his experience and skills in technology can help address community challenges, he has joined the Long Beach to make his hometown a more connected place.
    Alma Castro, Innovation Fellow: Castro’s passion for public service has provided her with a diverse set of skills and experiences. She received her double bachelor’s in political science and women’s studies from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her dedication to her profession led her to complete her master’s degree in public administration in 2011 from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. She has worked as a HIV prevention coordinator in Los Angeles, engaged young women in global advocacy at Girl Scouts of the USA, and has recently lived abroad in Guatemala. While abroad, she had the unique privilege of being an observer during the genocide trial in 2013 and was part of a consultant team at UN Women. There, she helped complete a two-part diagnostic examining the quality of care and services to victims of crimes and on gender equality within Guatemala’s prosecution offices. She lives in Long Beach.
    Eric Romero, Innovation Fellow: Romero became passionate about studying social issues and actively engaging in local community development efforts addressing issues of poverty, housing, and immigrant integration while an undergraduate student at California State University Long Beach.  After completing a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Romero pursued a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a focus on economic development.  Furthermore, he worked as a project manager for Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, a school-wide initiative focused on preparing graduate students for careers in global governance, where he oversaw operations and program development.   He lives in Long Beach and seeks to bring innovative solutions to difficult problems.
    Heidi Wiersma, Innovation Fellow: Wiersma earned her bachelor’s in community health from Western Washington University before beginning her career in chronic disease prevention for a county health department. It was while co-facilitating a community health improvement process that she began to understand the influence local government policies can have on enhancing people’s lives. From May 2011 to June 2013 Heidi served as a community health and development peace corps volunteer in Rwanda where she helped increase program awareness by facilitating regional life skills camps for youth. In her host community, Wiersma mobilized community partners to obtain a USAID grant to address child malnutrition and its primary contributing factor, poverty, through an income generating project.  In August 2013 she began the master of public administration program at the USC Price School of Public Policy. She lives in Long Beach.
    Chase Airmet, Designmatters Fellow: Airmet completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah in Design Theory & Practice. While in Utah, he worked as a research fellow for the Spark Health Innovation Lab as a draftsmen for a number of architectural firms and as a junior product designer for Espiritu Design. Airmet is a graduate industrial design candidate at the Art Center College of Design. He has a drive and passion to create objects, services and experiences that excite and delight users. Inspired by nature and simple clean designs, he seeks to design new growth and value for companies through a trend and research based iterative design process considering all aspects of the product from the end use to the manufacturing and business opportunities.

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  • RL NEWS Briefs for the Week: May 18, 2015

    POLA Container Volumes Slip 6% in April
    SAN PEDRO — April 2015 containerized cargo volumes at the Port of Los Angeles decreased 6.1 percent compared to the same period this past year.
    The port handled a total of 662,973 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April 2015. Comparatively, the previous April was particularly robust as importers advanced inventory due to concerns about labor negotiations later in the year. Additionally, there were vessel alliance uncertainties this April as shipping lines continued to return to their Trans-Pacific rotations.
    For the first four months of 2015, overall volumes (2,486,927 TEUs) are down 5.3 percent compared to the same period in 2014. Current and historical data is available here.
    Imports dropped 9.9 percent, from 364,126 TEUs in April 2014 to 328,140 TEUs in April 2015. Exports declined 15.8 percent, from 172,945 TEUs in April 2014 to 145,655 TEUs in April 2015. Combined, total loaded imports and exports decreased 11.8 percent, from 537,071 TEUs in April 2014 to 473,796 TEUs in April 2015. Factoring in empties, which increased 12 percent, overall April 2015 volumes (662,973 TEUs) dropped  6.1 percent.
    Current and past data container counts for the Port of Los Angeles may be found at:http://www.portoflosangeles.org/maritime/stats.asp

    Long Beach Cargo Continues Rebound
    LONG BEACH — Container cargo flow through the Port of Long Beach increased 7.9 percent in April compared to the same month this past year.
    This is the busiest April in nine years.
    A total of 614,860 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of containerized cargo were moved through the port in April. Imports reached 317,376 TEUs, a 7.3 percent increase from this past year. Exports fell 6.1 percent to 137,546 TEUs. Empty containers surged 25.3 percent to 159,938 TEUs. With imports exceeding exports, empty containers are sent overseas to be refilled with goods.
    In April, the terminals were also working through the backlog left over from the winter’s congestion in San Pedro Bay. By the end of the month, no more container ships were waiting at anchor to come into the Port of Long Beach. To see the latest on cargo ship tracking at the Port of Long Beach, please see “Vessels at a Glance.”
    For all the latest monthly cargo numbers, click here.
    For more details on the cargo numbers, please visit www.polb.com/stats.

    LB Council Approves Alcohol Nuisance Abatement Ordinance
    LONG BEACH — On May 12, the Long Beach City Council unanimously approved the further implementation of an alcohol nuisance abatement ordinance to decrease nuisance-related activity such as loitering near liquor stores.
    Liquor stores requirements include:

    • The store must provide exterior lighting and security measures to the satisfaction of the Long Beach Police Department chief.
    • No more than 10 percent o f store windows and transparent surfaces may be covered or obstructed.
    • The business must be operated and maintained in a neat, quiet and orderly condition.
    • The businesses may not result in adverse effect to the health and peace or safety of people in the area.
    • All exterior payphones shall be removed.
    • The building address shall be displayed on all sides of the building facing a public right-of-way, including an alley.

    LB Harbor Board Approves Cement Terminal Project
    LONG BEACH — The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the Mitsubishi Cement Facility Modification Project this past week.
    The approval gave the green light to the addition of 40,000 metric tons of additional storage capacity consisting of storage and loading silos on vacant port property that is adjacent to Mitsubishi’s existing facility at Pier F.
    The site will increase in size from 4.21 acres to 5.92 acres. The board’s approval was contingent on environmental measures and upgrades.
    The terminal receives imported cement and cement-like materials via bulk cargo ships. The product is stored in a warehouse or in silos. It is then loaded onto trucks and taken to local and regional concrete batch plants. With the economy improving and demand for cement rebounding, the approved project will allow Mitsubishi to more efficiently meet the regional demand for cement.
    To ensure that the facility is as green as possible, the project requires Mitsubishi Cement to maintain a truck fleet with at least 90 percent of the fleet having engines from 2010 or newer. Mitsubishi will also install solar panels and energy-efficient lighting and conduct an energy audit every five years. Mitsubishi will also work with the port on a technology review every five years to identify new technologies that can be incorporated into operations to further reduce emissions.
    While the terminal already offers shore power so ships at berth can shut down their engines to reduce emissions, not all vessels are able to plug in. With the upgrades, when ships can’t use shore power, a new emission control system called “Dockside Catalytic Control” will connect to the vessels’ exhaust stacks and capture pollutants.
    The approved project calls for Mitsubishi Cement to contribute $333,720 to the port’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Grant Program. The port Community Mitigation Grant Programs are designed to improve community health by lessening the impacts of port-related air pollution, and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
    Construction of the improvements is expected to take two to three years.

    Snowden Gets Vindicated
    On May 7, after almost two years since the Edward Snowden publicized that the National Security Agency was collecting phone records, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared that the secret program was illegal from the start.
    The court found that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act does not allow the dragnet program in which the NSA collects records on Americans.
    The decision came as Congress considers whether to amend or renew Section 215 before its sunset on June 1. Narrowig Section 215 under the proposed USA Freedom Act or to letting it expire would end the agency’s wide-ranging collection of phone records.
    Section 215 authorizes a court to order the disclosure of business records only when they are “relevant to…an authorized investigation [of] international terrorism.” That provision would plainly allow the government to get the phone records of a suspected terrorist or his associates. But the NSA has argued that it should get much more: Everyone’s phone records are “relevant,” it contends, because at some point it might be useful to search them to identify terrorist ties. The court of appeals unanimously rejected the NSA’s reading as “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
    The USA Freedom Act would end the phone-data collection program and foreclose the use of other statutes for similar “bulk collection.” It would mandate that experienced lawyers appear before the surveillance court to defend privacy when the government seeks new spying powers.
    The USA Freedom Act has been endorsed by Silicon Valley corporations, human-rights groups, and a broad spectrum of legislators, like Sens. Ron Wyden, Pat Leahy and Mike Lee, and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and John Conyers. But don’t mistake this for a new realization by our representatives that privacy matters. The real reason the bill has such wide support, including from the executive branch, is that its reforms are quite modest—and absent reform of some kind, Section 215 may simply expire. The NSA currently collects all our phone records, but because of changes by President Obama last year, it can search them only after it has shown a judge that it has reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to terrorism. Under the new law, it would still be able to do that—but phone companies, not the NSA, would store the data.

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  • John Farrell: Tiger of San Pedro’s Theater Reviews Dies at 63

    Photo Courtesy of Steve Moyer

    The Random Lengths News family is mourning the death of the paper’s longtime theater reviewer, John Farrell. Farrell died May 7 at the age of 63.

    The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office had yet to determine Farrell’s cause of death as of press time. However, he was known to suffer from diabetes.

    Known for his eclectic style, which included wearing a top hat, Farrell loved theater in all its incarnations.

    “He was bigger than life—big in size and big in personality,” said his younger brother, Edward.

    Farrell, would commute to San Pedro and Long Beach to do what he loved the most: attend the theater.

    Charlotte Irons, a longtime friend with whom he lived, found him at his computer in her Sherman Oaks home at about 4 p.m.

    “He died at his computer and that’s how it should be,” said Irons about Farrell’s dedication to his craft.

    Irons, who met Farrell as a student at Cal State Long Beach in the early ‘70s, said Farrell and she shared a love for theater and world cultures. She remembers how he seemed to carry “100 cameras around his neck” as a photographer for the Daily 49er, the school’s campus newspaper.

    “We had so much in common,” she said. “It was he who brought me back to opera. He brought me back to a lot of the things I developed as a child.”

    Farrell was born on Sept. 19, 1951, in San Pedro. His father, John Farrell Sr., was a postal supervisor. His mother Martha was a teacher.

    Farrell’s brother, Edward, two nephews, a niece and a great-grand nephew, survive him.

    A graduate of San Pedro High School, Farrell was much less of a bohemian in his youth than he was in his later years. He always wanted to be a writer. In fact, he even started a small newspaper, Edward remembered. He later attended Harbor College before transferring to Cal State Long Beach to study journalism.

    Farrell also was a proud member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a literary society established in 1934 that’s dedicated to the study of Sherlock Holmes. Farrell’s title at the society was “The Tiger of San Pedro.”

    “He really had three lives: Sherlock Holmes, music and theater,” his brother said.

    Farrell will be cremated. No funeral services are planned at this time. A celebration of life might be in the plans for the future. In lieu of flowers, Farrell’s family is asking friends, readers and loved ones to attend a show in his memory.

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  • RL NEWS Briefs of the Week: May 15, 2015

    Tanaka and Carey Plead ‘Not Guilty’

    LOS ANGELES — On May 14, Paul Tanaka and William Thomas Carey plead not guilty to obstruction of justice during their appearance in court at the Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles.

    A trial was scheduled for July 7. Both were released yesterday afternoon on bond. For Tanaka, bond was set at $50,000, and will be secured by property owned by his wife.  Carey’s bond was set at $100,000, but is unsecured.

    Tanaka, who was the second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and Carey, who oversaw internal criminal investigations at the LASD, were indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations by sheriff’s deputies at two downtown jail complexes.

    A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Tanaka and Carey, who allegedly participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation, a scheme that started when the sheriff’s department learned that an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail was an FBI informant.

    Tanaka and Carey allegedly directed, oversaw and participated in a conspiracy that this past year resulted in the conviction of seven other former LASD deputies.

    Tanaka and Carey, both 56, are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is charged with two counts of making false declarations for perjuring himself last year during the trials of co-conspirators.

    Tanaka was the undersheriff – the No. 2 in the LASD – until 2013, and he ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff last year. Carey left the LASD after reaching the rank of captain and heading the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.

    Tanaka and Carey surrendered themselves to the FBI early May 14.

    According to the indictment that was unsealed, the two defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails, “allegations of rampant abuse of inmates,” and “insufficient internal investigations” into deputy misconduct. But against this backdrop, Tanaka allegedly told deputies assigned to the jails to work in a “gray area” and that he thought that the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau should be reduced from 45 investigators to just one.

    The scheme to thwart the federal investigation allegedly started when deputies in August 2011 recovered a mobile phone from an inmate in Men’s Central Jail, linked the phone to the FBI, and determined that the inmate was an informant for the FBI and was cooperating in a federal corruption civil rights investigation. The phone was given to the inmate by a corrupt deputy, who subsequently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.

    Alarmed by the federal investigation, members of the conspiracy, guided by Tanaka and Carey, took affirmative steps to hide the cooperator from the FBI and the United States Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate to testify before a federal grand jury in response to an order issued by a federal judge. The indictment alleges that as part of the conspiracy, the deputies altered records to make it appear that the cooperator had been released. They then re-booked the inmate under a different name, moved him to secure locations, prohibited FBI access to the informant, and then told the cooperator that he had been abandoned by the FBI.

    Over the course of several weeks, members of the conspiracy allegedly sought an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to the LASD. After the judge refused to issue the order because he had no jurisdiction over the federal law enforcement agency, and even though it was clear that the FBI was properly acting in the course of a lawful investigation, Tanaka and Carey met to discuss having two sergeants approach the lead FBI case agent. Soon thereafter, the sergeants confronted the agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her. The sergeants threatened the agent with arrest and later reiterated this threat to her supervisor, stating that the agent’s arrest was imminent.

    “As the allegations demonstrate, Tanaka had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the sheriff’s department,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “This case also illustrates how leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture, will be held accountable, just like their subordinates.”

    The indictment also alleges that Tanaka and Carey oversaw co-conspirators who told fellow deputies not to cooperate in the federal investigation. Members of the conspiracy allegedly engaged in witness tampering by telling fellow deputies that the FBI would lie, threaten, manipulate and blackmail them to obtain information about the sheriff’s department.

    “The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts,” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The public held the defendants to the highest standard, but, instead, they spent their time and energy setting a tone which minimized the value of their oath and dishonored the badge they wore.”

    An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

    The conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, and the obstruction of justice charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years. The two false declaration counts against Carey each carry a potential penalty of five years.

    As a result of this investigation, a total of 21 defendants who held various ranks in the LASD have been charged, including the deputy who took the bribe to smuggle the phone and seven co-conspirators in the scheme to obstruct justice (see, for example: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2014/161.html).

    The investigation into corruption, civil rights abuses and obstruction of justice related to the Los Angeles County jails is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    LBPD Release Name of OIS Officer
    LONG BEACH — On May 12, the Long Beach Police Department released the name of Officer Jeffrey A. Meyer, who killed an unarmed 19-year-old man on April 23.
    The fatal shooting of Hector Morejon took place in the central area of Long Beach known as Cambodia Town. Morejon’s family want officials to release his autopsy report and the 9-1-1 dispatch call.
    The shooting took place after officers responded to reports of a break in to an unoccupied residence. Police officials said Meyer thought he saw Morejon pointing a gun before shooting. No weapon was found at the scene.

    Bird Theft Suspect IdentifiedZermeno
    LONG BEACH — On May 15, Long Beach Police Department detectives identified 42-year-old Jose Jesus Zermeno as a suspect wanted in connection with the theft of exotic birds from a Long Beach home.
    The LBPD is seeking the public’s help with locating him and identifying two additional suspects.
    Officials said that on May 4, Zermeno entered a residential backyard in the 6700 block of Harbor Avenue, where he stole five exotic birds from separate birdcages. Video surveillance captured the incident where Zermeno is seen climbing over the fence into the backyard, opening birdcages, removing the birds, and handing them over the fence to a second suspect. A third unidentified suspect drove a red Ford Ranger truck.

    A police officer spotted the truck, at about 5 a.m. May 14, 2015, near Wardlow Road and Atlantic Avenue. The officer attempted to conduct a traffic stop but the driver of the failed to yield and led the officer on a short vehicle pursuit. The officer lost sight of the truck. It was later found abandoned in the 2200 block of Cedar Avenue. The truck was impounded and is in the custody of the Long Beach Police Department.
    Zermeno is about 5’ 3″ with a medium build. The second suspect is a 25- to 30-year-old man, about 5’10” to 6’0” and 185 to 200 pounds. The description of the third suspect is unknown at this time.
    If anyone has information about this incident call (562) 570-7351 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.

    Long Beach City Council Helps Cab Company Stay Competitive

    LONG BEACH — On May 12, The Long Beach City Council voted 9-0 to ease regulations on Long Beach Yellow Cab so that it could increase its fleet size.
    The cab company will increase its fleet size by 24 to 199 taxicabs in Long Beach.
    The council’s decision will allow for the company to offer discounts to make them more competitive with rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, for example.
    The company has stated that it plans to rebrand itself and incorporate mobility technology.

    CSU to Get $38 Million
    SACRAMENTO — The California State University system is slated to receive an additional $38 million for investment as a result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget to the Legislature.
    However, the proposal falls $59 million short of what the CSU Board of Trustees deems is necessary.
    The Legislature has until June 15 to send their version of the State Budget to the governor for his final approval by July 1.

    UC’s Largest Employee Union, AFSCME 3299, Reacts to Governor’s May Budget Revise
    OAKLAND — In response to the release of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May Budget Revise, which includes a two-year tuition freeze at the University of California, AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger has released the following statement:
    “We are encouraged by … [the] May Budget revise, which includes a framework for preventing the planned UC tuition hikes that would have been devastating for students. The University’s commitment to contain the exorbitant executive pensions that divert resources away from UC’s core public mission is also an important step forward, provided it is not used as a tool to undermine the retirement security of its lower paid, frontline staff.
    Ultimately, there remains much more to do to restore UC’s promise of offering ladders to the middle class for Californians, particularly on issues of in-state access and the rising number of UC workers who are living in poverty. That’s why we will continue to urge legislators to tie increased state funding to in-state enrollment targets, and to enact legislation that guarantees ‘equal pay’ for UC subcontractors who do the same jobs as career UC employees (SB 376, Lara).”

    Hahn Tries to Honor World War II Merchant Mariners
    WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 14, Rep. Janice Hahn, who has been leading an effort to honor World War II Merchant Mariners spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
    Despite courageous and heroic service World War II Merchant Mariners did not receive benefits like the G.I. bill provided to other veterans.
    As the House considers the National Defense Authorization Act, Hahn offered an amendment that would have honored those who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. However, the House Rules Committee did not rule her amendment in order.
    Hahn earlier this year introduced the Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2015 (H.R. 563).
    Video of Congresswoman Hahn speaking today on the urgency of honoring surviving WWII Merchant Mariners can be seen at https://youtu.be/Q5vmvcfgJms

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  • Queen Latifah, Empress of the Blues

    By Melina Paris, Columnist

    If there was ever a question as to which present-day actress would be one of the best choices to portray Bessie Smith, Queen Latifah would certainly be the best answer.

    Queen Latifah will indeed star in the legendary singer’s biopic, Bessie, which airs on HBO May 16.

    The film is loosely based on the acclaimed biography Bessie, by journalist Chris Albertson. The book focuses on Smith’s escape from her turbulent personal life to become one of the first major blues stars, earning the distinction “Empress of the Blues.”

    Smith dealt with many adversities in her life, including racism and the Great Depression. She was also a business woman and one of the most successful recording artists of her time, earning up to $2,000 a week. She lived hard and created some of her own hardships.

    Smith has been a strong influence on such female vocalists as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Queen Latifah has the chops to measure up to Smith’s legacy, and has the voice for the role, having garnered Grammy nominations for her albums as a jazz singer. Latifah has recorded many of Smith’s well-known songs for the film, and a soundtrack release is expected.

    Producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck first approached Queen Latifah for the role when she was only 22. At press conferences, Queen Latifah has said she is glad the film took 22 years to get made.

    “When the project came my way, I don’t think I had the life journey that went along with it,” she said. “I got to live more of the blues.”

    The remarkable similarities between the two women make this role a good fit for Queen Latifah. Both are savvy business people, both are beautiful with big voices and curvaceous figures, and both have enormous charisma.

    In an interview with CBS, Latifah spoke about the first time she was approached for the role.

    “I didn’t know who Bessie Smith was,” she said. “I had to go do some homework. And I did. When I listened to her music, I was initially intimidated. She had so much power—power in her fist, power in her heart, power in her body, her soul. I do admire her. I mean, I relate to her in a lot of ways. I’ve lived her life in a lot of ways.”

    The film also stars Mo’Nique as blues legend Ma Rainey, Bryan Greenberg as John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive who signed Smith, as well as Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Tory Kittles, Mike Epps, Oliver Platt and Charles S. Dutton.

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  • Making it Big While Staying True

    Fr3qu3nc3 band members Frank Unzueta, Lucas Valenzuela, Chey Espejo and Tommy Pinteric. Photos courtesy of Lucas Valenzuela.

    Luke Von Duke talks about the road he’s traveled from Somehow Still Alive to Fr3qu3nc3

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    I talked to Luke Valenzuela at Alvas Showroom during a Frank Unzueta’s One World concert in November of 2013.

    I was there on assignment covering Frank Unzueta. I knew he was Luke’s uncle and thought at the time it would be great to interview both musicians together. Luke caught my attention in 2009 as Luke von Duke with his band, Somehow Still Alive. He was different. At the time, he was the only local artist I saw who embraced hip hop and rock music the way he did.

    When I greeted Luke at Alvas recently he didn’t immediately recognize me. I was just the guy that did the photoshoot of him and his band for the feature. B. Noel Barr wrote the story. His eyes lit with recognition when I said I was from Random Lengths.

    “Hey man, how you doing?” he said. “Man, I got a new band called Fr3qu3nc3 (pronounced “frequency”), but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet.”

    “That’s OK—get in touch with me when you are,” I told him.

    A year-and-a-half later, Luke messaged me on Facebook with links to his music and a query about running a story about him.

    I told him I’d get in touch the week after next, when Random Lengths wasn’t publishing. He tagged me first.

    Luke has three songs: “Laugh at Myself,” “Don’t Hold Your Breath” and “I’m Nothing.” They struck me as being strangely familiar. It reminded me of the industrial-sounding, British, pop music from the 1980s.

    It turned out, I wasn’t far off.

    When Luke and I finally met up at Averill Park, he explained that Fr3qu3nc3 emerged out of a low point, when Somehow Still Alive disbanded. I remembered back in 2009, there was a great deal of excitement that that band was on the verge of making it big and breaking out beyond the confines of San Pedro.

    “The music I was doing in 2008 and 2009 seemed like it was starting to break through but it was pushed back to the underground,” Luke said. “We were opening for headliners and we were being looked at by labels and that was in ’09. Back then, the music business was a little bit better.”

    Fr3qu3nc3’s music was inspired by Depeche Mode, an English electronic band that formed in 1980. The band’s original lineup included Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke. Clarke was replaced by Alan Wilder in 1982.

    Gahan fronted the band as lead vocalist, while Gore played guitar and keyboards and was main songwriter for much of their first 13 years together.

    Luke attempted to make a cover of Depeche Mode’s 1990 song, “Enjoy the Silence” using FL Studio, a music production program. He wasn’t satisfied with the result, explaining that his software didn’t have the right patches to correct some of the bugs in the system, making his effort sound amateurish.

    “It was as if I used a Playschool beatmaker,” he said.

    But it was during this process that he found the Asian Strings patch and created what became the first line of Fr3qu3nc3’s debut song, “Laugh at Myself.”

    “I’ve always loved Depeche Mode and The Smiths’ Morrissey and The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary,’” Luke said.

    After completing “Laugh at Myself,” Luke gained momentum. Working with a guitar and the melodies inside his head, he started cranking out original music. That’s also when he hooked up with lifelong friend “Tommy Gunn” Pintaric.

    “That’s my boy; I loved that guy,” Luke said. “I’ve known him for 27 years. I’d take a bullet for him… Well, I’ll take a punch for him, not a bullet.”

    Charismatic and funny, Luke’s “taking a punch” slaps me as an inside joke that is both funny and real. Luke said he had produced five more songs before he approached Tommy. He had previously reached out to another drummer who ultimately flaked. Luke and Tommy believed Fr3qu3nc3’s sound needed some funk. That’s where Uncle Frank comes in.

    “Chances are, nine times out of 10, the kids that shred around here were taught by Uncle Frank,” Luke explained. “His guitar playing…to me, he’s one of the most amazing guitar players around. He’s not Frank Unzueta. He’s Uncle Frank around here.”

    As Luke puts it, Fr3qu3nc3 got real sexy after Frank’s inclusion. His guitar playing reminds Luke of Johnny Mar from The Smiths, one of his all-time favorite guitarists.

    Sean Herrera from Sifa joined the group, but he parted ways from the band due to scheduling conflicts. Luke and Sean remain close enough that Luke said for Sean, he would also take a slap in the face.

    Chey Espejo next joined Fr3qu3nc3. Chey was a member of Knucklebuster, who we’ve also featured in these pages, as well as Luke’s late 1990s band, Beer Drinking Weather.

    “I keep my eye on both of them [Herrera and Espejo] because they are so good,” Luke said.

    After explaining how he put this current band together, Luke got to the real reason why we was ready for a write-up.

    He had found some muscle in the industry with 12-time Grammy winning producer and musician, Rafa Sardina.

    “His playing is just clear and he’s worked with everybody,” Luke said excitedly. “He’s worked with Lady Gaga, He’s worked with Beyonce.”

    Luke said his production sounds like Jesus recorded them.

    Indeed, Rafa’s client list reads like a Who’s Who in all the major music magazines from Rolling Stone to The Source with artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Harry Connick Jr, Mariah Carey, Shakira, Dr. Dre, Dru Hill…. the list goes on.

    Luke sent Rafa an email and amazingly got a response. More importantly, he got an audience with Rafa at which time he listened to Fr3qu3nc3’s music.

    “I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I almost pinched my own ass to see if I was dreaming,” said Luke jokingly. But he was serious.

    Rafa apparently liked Luke’s music enough to shop it around to some of his industry contacts—a pretty freaking huge deal.

    At 34, Luke has been chasing his dreams for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s suffered many disappointments.

    “It’s a rat race; I feel like everybody is fighting over the same piece of moldy cheese,” he said, reflecting on his years in the game. “When you get a taste of what the music industry is all about, it’s kind of scary.”

    “They’re not about development anymore,” he said. “You could have great music, but if you don’t have massive social media support, they won’t talk to you.”

    Pantomiming the typical conversation artists have with music executives before they make it to the big time—if they make it—Luke begins:

    “Hey, you got the best music in the world. I listen to it every night with my wife. How’s your following? How many Facebook likes do you have? 200. How many YouTube views? 500. Get out of here.”

    “They don’t want to mess with you,” he said.

    Luke and his Beer Drinking Weather bandmates thought they had it made when Interscope Records was looking at them. It ultimately didn’t work out. He blames oversaturation of artists as the biggest hurdle, noting that there’s a Fr3qu3nc3 at every corner, a Luke rapping on every stage, and somebody making beats everywhere else.

    This time, Luke is hiring a public relations agent to help him get his recognition up in social media and beyond. Right now, the stars seems to be coming into alignment and his dreams of financially supporting himself and his parents seems a little bit closer. He intends to stay on his grind, making use of any opportunity, ‘til the wheels fall off.

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    By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine Writer

    If you were unable to attend the West Coast BBQ Classic at the Queen Mary May 9, I feel sorry for your loss. What you missed was some of the best barbeque this side of the Mississippi, so allow me to paint a picture for you.

    Imagine thousands of hungry attendees, 80 certified barbecue judges and 57 eager teams competing for the ultimate prize: a wifi barbecue grill, a check for $10,000 and a chance to hold the state title of Grand Champion. Brought to you by the Kansas City BBQ Society, this was the fourth annual barbeque classic here in Long Beach. And, let me tell you, it was well worth the heartburn I experienced after sampling some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted in my life.

    Contestants were able to compete in several categories, submitting entries for chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. Judges rated each team’s entry on a scale from one to nine and allocated points for appearance, taste and tenderness. Oh, to have been a judge that day…

    I’m horrible at “sampling” anything. If someone hands me an excellent piece of barbecue chicken or a pork rib, there is no way I’m taking just one bite. If it’s out of this world, I’ll happily take the whole thing down (and probably ask for seconds).

    Naturally, I lasted about two hours before I had to army crawl back to the car just so I could drag myself home and take a nap. From what I was able to try, there were four teams that really stood out above the rest. While they didn’t place in the top five of any category, their entries were so on point, I can only imagine how sensational the winners must have been.

    Competing for their second year at the West Coast BBQ Classic was Team Woodshed. Based in Orange, the Woodshed is actually a brick-and-mortar store, and is well known for their premium firewood.

    Purchased by husband–and–wife team Mike and Patty Sharpe in 2006, the Woodshed gained notoriety in the restaurant world in Southern California. In 2012 Patty lost her beloved husband to leukemia, but she continues to honor him by continuing to run the business with genuine enthusiasm.

    I found the team to be incredibly upbeat and eager to please everyone. They didn’t have an arrogant air about them; they were there to have fun. Of course, it’s about the food, but competing as a team that is actually known for providing cooking wood to other contestants, I still thought their entries were quite incredible. The kalua pork was a particularly bold move considering most judges are looking for traditional barbecue fare, but sometimes you need a break between smoky ribs and charred chicken. Served alongside spicy pineapple beans and rice, the kalua pork was the perfect combination of sweet and tangy.

    Outta Gas BBQ deserves an honorable mention, particularly because they won the People’s Choice Award. Husband–and–wife team Chris and Laura Ades started grilling in the backyard. Their love for exceptional barbecue quickly turned competitive in 2013. Their team, comprised of friends and family and their loving entourage, gave them a competitive advantage.

    Outta Gas BBQ catered to the hordes of people like a well-oiled machine. Their booth alone was a crowd favorite, giving them an added appeal. Crowds formed in front of their grilling station, which looked like a roadside barbecue shack and waited patiently for their ribs.

    My personal favorite was their short rib taco with romaine lettuce and cabbage slaw served with a lime wedge. I almost asked for two but instead Laura gave me a generous serving of their special beans cooked with chunks of bacon. I have no problem with bacon; I say put it on everything.

    But the true showstoppers were the soon–to–be husband–and–wife duo Harry Soo and Donna Fong, who compete as Slap Yo Daddy BBQ and Butcher’s Daughter BBQ. Unlike most of the competing couples I spoke to at the event, Harry and Donna have a whole different dynamic. In fact, they are not a team at all. They travel around competing against each other and the stakes are high.

    By day Harry is an information technology manager in downtown Los Angeles, but by night he’s a barbecue grill master—a title which he undoubtedly earned. The man has so many barbecue accolades, it’s almost ridiculous.

    His most incredible win was placing first among 7,000 contestants in a barbecue contest in Kansas where he did it with chicken. Harry is well known in the world of barbecue. He currently teaches barbecue techniques to eager and willing enthusiasts. Many of his students were competing against him at the Queen Mary.

    Donna is a quiet, introverted molecular biologist who lives in Northern California. She had her first taste of barbecue several years ago and decided the only way to eat great barbecue all of the time was to become a judge. She started taking barbecue courses from Harry and as they say, one thing led to another. They have since been happily competing against each other for years.

    I stood between their booths, watching in complete awe as they kept passing me slices of different things to try. My heart went pitter-patter. With expert precision, Donna sliced off a piece of her Wagyu beef brisket from Snake River. For those of you who don’t know, anything from that breed of cattle costs a pretty penny, but my god it is worth every cent. Her brisket melted in my mouth; I’ve never had anything like it.

    Harry offered up his pork ribs, his famous chicken, both of which were excellent. The chicken, in particular, was so juicy that I forgot I was eating chicken.

    As I turned to leave, Harry handed me a tender morsel of something that blew my mind. To this day I still have no idea what I put in my mouth but whatever it was, I have a new appreciation and fondness for barbecue. After that bite, the world stopped for a moment. In some respects, it was life–changing. That one piece will forever be my first, my last, and my only (until, of course, next year).

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  • Human Trafficking:

    A Look at Modern Slavery in the Harbor Area

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Editor’s Note: Above is a still photo from the film, Niña Quebrada, which tells the story of a young girl forced into prostitution by her boyfriend upon arriving in Los Angeles from Mexico. Though the story in the film is based on fictional characters, the circumstances in which these characters are found are accurate depictions of the travails that many victims of human trafficking face. The accounts reported in this article are true stories that focus on the many aspects of human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking.

    Mary didn’t have the best home life when she met a man who pulled down the stars and the moon for her, promising everlasting love.

    But the illusion of a better life soon turned into a nightmare. The man forced her to have sex with other men for money, threatened her and even tattooed his street name on her face. Alone, trapped and forced into prostitution, Mary feared for her life and the lives of her family members.

    “They had tortured, sexually abused her; it was horrible,” said Lt. Dan Pratt of the Long Beach Police Department’s Vice Investigations detail, whose group handled the case. “She didn’t have the wherewithal to seek help. She was just afraid. She didn’t know what she should do and she believed everything he said. He manipulated the heck out of her.”

    Pratt said it was satisfying to put her perpetrators in jail. One is facing life in prison and another is awaiting sentencing.

    Unfortunately, Mary’s story is not unusual.

    In 2014, the Vice Investigations detail handled 24 cases, made 26 arrests and rescued 29 minors from modern slavery, otherwise known as human trafficking.

    According to a 2007 United Nations report, human trafficking generates about $9.5 billion in the United States, annually. There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the United States, but estimates show that about 100,000 children are involved in the sex trade industry in the country each year. The Attorney General’s office states that between mid-2010 and mid-2012, California law enforcement officials identified 1,277 victims and arrested 1,798 people. Los Angeles is among three of the FBI’s highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation, according to a 2009 Department of Justice report.

    The victims of human trafficking are hiding in plain sight, while being controlled and held captive. They are people waiting at the bus stop as you drive by on your way to work. They might be your neighbor’s housekeepers, or the workers who made your child’s toy.

    “Human trafficking essentially is a continuum of exploitation,” said Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, also known as CAST, a direct service provider to survivors of human trafficking in the Los Angeles region. She further defined the crime: “It is when a person is forced through physical force, fraud or coercion to remain in a situation of exploitation.”

    CAST helps survivors escape and provides shelter, case management, legal services, and advocacy. It works collaboratively with more than 90 organizations. In 2014, it served more than 350 survivors and their family members.

    Sola, a domestic slave from Africa, is one of the human trafficking survivors CAST helped rescue. Seemingly employed as a nanny, she was in the United States with a family—her captors—were on an extended vacation. They were staying at a hotel. Sola managed to get the hotline number for CAST at the African embassy, when Homeland Security officials interviewed her separately from her traffickers. They gave Sola the CAST hotline number. When the family went out to a theme park, Sola was left alone at the hotel and told not to leave. That’s when she took the opportunity to call.

    “She hid it there in her bra strap for a whole month before she summoned up the courage to call when the family was out,” Buck recalled.

    The first day CAST planned the escape with her over the phone, Sola didn’t show.

    “She didn’t have the courage to leave,” Buck said. “She called back that night and we did the same the following morning. That time, she did have the courage to leave. We were able to help her escape and take her to our shelter where she stayed for a year.”

    A June 2012 International Labor Organization report estimates that globally there are 20.9 million cases of human trafficking, including 5.5 million children. It is the second largest criminal industry in the world after drug dealing. Many victims of trafficking are forced into prostitution, pornography or exotic dancing. But trafficking also occurs in the form of labor exploitation such as domestic servitude, restaurant work, “sweatshop” factory work or migrant agricultural work. Buck explained that modern slavery cases are really an extreme form of labor exploitation, where people are physically threatened or beaten to force them to work.

    “Many times they are nearly starved to death,” according to Buck. “There is a lot of threats and coercion that occurs in human trafficking cases that make it different from maybe wage and hour violations that are also labor exploitation, but are not modern slavery cases.”

    Diego experienced that violence firsthand. He was 15 when local gangs in Central America threatened to rape his sister and kill his mother if he didn’t join their gang. According to Buck, Diego’s family put together some money to send him out of the country. After much hardship, he made it to Mexico, where he was faced once again with more gang violence. Diego watched as a friend who was travelling with him from the same region was shot and then burned in a trash can. He was also forced to carry drugs over the U.S. border.

    Fortunately, Diego was caught by border patrol officers, who recognized that he was caught up in a trafficking case and called CAST.

    “You can imagine the trauma that this 15-year-old kid endured through that journey of just trying to live a normal life,” Buck said. “Traffickers do swoop in and they do target vulnerable populations.”

    CAST has helped Diego with legal services and with accessing health care, that included the mental health care the boy was in extreme need of, after his ordeal.

    Diego is reportedly doing well now, said Buck. In fact, he was recently named a student leader at his school.

    “It shows that with the right support, survivors of trafficking have so much potential and they go on to live successful lives,” Buck said. “Survivors are not broken people. They have experienced horrific, terrible ordeals with usually unspeakable violence, but with support they can really start to rebuild their lives and become our neighbors in the community.”

    Random Lengths News did not use the real names of the human trafficking survivors in this story because the agencies involved are trying to protect the identity, privacy and safety of the survivors, some of whom are minors. For more information about CAST visit www.castla.org. The CAST hotline number is the (888) KEY-2-FREE or (888) 539-2373.

    Other sources include:
    Free the Slaves: http://freetheslaves.net
    Mary Magdalene Project: (818) 988-4970
    Gems Uncovered: (562) 275-1698

    Click here to read a related story about students who examined the role of human trafficking in their lives.



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  • Filling in the Blanks

    Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian leaves nothing unsaid at POLAHS State of the School address

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    In four minutes and some change, Harbor Commission member Dave Arian spoke clearly and directly about a new place the Port of Los Angeles High School finds itself. The former head of the ILWU International and Local 13 began his remarks by cracking a joke.

    “I’m a little different from the other speakers,” he remarked during the State of the School address May 6. “Not too many people ask me how to get into POLAHS. They just ask me how to get into longshoring.”

    Before Arian spoke, Principal Tom Scotti and Councilman Joe Buscaino both joked about how parents peppered them with questions and petitions, at restaurants or at their offices, for help in getting into the highly touted school.

    To be sure, Scotti laid out the school’s successes and the milestones they—the teachers, students, community and board of trustees—were able to reach in 10 years.

    In fact, three alumni and a current student of the school spoke about the impact the school has had on their lives, and Scotti was able to cite statistics indicating the areas in which the school surpassed both the state and the school district in narrowing the student achievement gap between that of white and Asian American students and that of black and Hispanic students.

    Arian served as a counterpoint, and was blunt.

    “I’ve never been a big supporter of charter schools,” he said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of the public schools system. I’ve never been fully won over by the charter concept. And I’m still not.”

    Arian said he recognized that new examples need to be set about how to educate young people.

    Scotti, who had been with the school since its beginning when temporary classes were held on Cabrillo Beach, spoke about how in a pro-labor and pro-public school community, POLAHS was viewed with skepticism and had much to prove to naysayers.

    Scotti’s remarks covered all of the bases. He joked about the emerging, multi-generational student body made up of children of varying class grades from the same family.

    He also spoke about the coming shift to Common Core and his desire to build on the school’s strengths and to guide student achievement along four pathways of success: maritime industry, environmental studies, digital media and geographical systems.

    Scotti noted that these pathways would help students aiming to enroll at universities and would also put them on the front doorstep to getting a credential that could lead to an above-minimum wage job right out of high school. He even alluded to changes that still needed to be decided upon by the board of trustees at next month’s meeting.

    And, Scotti said it all with hardly a mention of the activism that forced the changes in the first place.

    Arian was the only one to address directly the campus turmoil that occurred seven months previously—a period that saw Scotti’s resignation, student demonstrations and board meetings packed with upset parents, students and teachers, and ultimately Scotti’s return.

    Arian cast the campus struggle on a national scale and what it portends for the future.

    “In this last year, the struggle that took place is the kind of struggle that we should exemplify in America,” Arian said. “Where teachers, students and the community rose up and said ‘No. We don’t like what’s going on. We want to go a different way.’”

    Arian didn’t weigh in on either the board of trustees or the community side of the conflict, but rather on the necessity that there be a process by which all stakeholders in the school can have a voice and affect change.

    “It’s either that or Baltimore,” said Arian, referring to the recent social upheaval in the Eastern seaport town. “That’s our choice today because these kids [at POLAHS] are becoming a part of something that’s possible…That community in Baltimore was not given that opportunity in America.

    “When we look at POLAHS, and what POLAHS has begun to do—not only in San Pedro, but in Wilmington and other areas—these kids were given an option to struggle within the system against the system for a better system, rather than destroy it because they have no connection to it.”

    Arian was also the only one to note that the teachers have unionized, something that many local opponents of charter schools didn’t imagine happening 10 years ago.

    “When it came time to struggle, some of the teachers came to me knowing that I had organizing experience,” Arian said. “I did everything I could to help them organize and get into a union…It’s not just about a contract. It’s about improving the condition of the environment of your profession.”

    POLAHS Board of Trustee President Jayme Wilson—the other locus of community ire aside from the school’s former chief executive Jim Cross—was noticeably absent from the proceedings.

    Wilson has guided the board through this evolution. That has included the hiring of an auditing firm; initiating discussion on how to change the board’s bylaws to make it more inclusive of the parents and community members, and setting up systems and processes that conform to the California Public Records Act. And, he has done so despite vociferous calls for him to step down by parents and students over the past several months.

    Wilson did not respond to Random Lengths News requests for comment.


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