Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants Could Begin Operating by February

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The U.S.-Mexico Border at International Park in San Diego. Photo by Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / December 11, 2018

This article was originally published on FORTHE.org with a Spanish translation.  

A fund that will provide access to legal representation to low-income immigrants living in Long Beach who are facing deportation came closer to becoming a reality on Nov. 4. The city council approved a two-year agreement with the Vera Institute of Justice to manage the fund with a 6-3 vote.

Long Beach will be joining Vera’s SAFE Cities Network, a group of cities and counties that have committed to providing legal representation to undocumented individuals. Other California jurisdictions in the network include Sacramento, Oakland/Alameda County, and Santa Ana.

The $250,000 set aside by the city for the Long Beach Justice Fund is part of the People’s Budget that was lobbied for by a coalition of community groups during the city budget hearings earlier this year. Additionally, Vera will match the city’s “seed” funds with up to $100,000 in grant money.

The Office of Equity and City Manager will now team up with Vera to issue a request for proposals and select the organization that will actually provide the legal services. If all goes smoothly, the fund will begin operating early as mid-February, according to Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson.

In order to be eligible for the legal aid, a person must reside in Long Beach and have a household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty line—about $50,200 for a family of four.

Councilmember Lena Gonzalez (CD-1), who has spearheaded the fund’s implementation, pointed to Vera’s decades of experience and commitment of matching funds, as well as it’s “national perspective” as reasons for entering into the SAFE Cities Network.

Supporters framed the fund as a necessity in light of the Trump Administration’s hard line immigration policies.

Sarah Kim Pak, a fellow at the National Immigration Law Center, said during public testimony that she viewed the fund as correcting the “glaring imbalance” between the legal resources of federal prosecutors and many undocumented individuals, allowing the “anti-immigrant Trump deportation machine to blaze forward.”

Because deportation proceeding are civil, and not criminal, in nature, legal representation is not guaranteed for immigrants facing removal from the U.S. The consequences of deportation have in some cases proven to be dire.

Councilmembers Suzie Price (CD-3) and Stacy Mungo (CD-5) were the most vocal opponents to allowing Vera to manage the fund, ultimately voting against it along with Councilmember Daryl Supernaw (CD-4).

Pulling from her day job as a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Price said she favored legal support for those convicted of low-level crimes but wanted “limitations” in place for those convicted of more serious crimes.

“If an individual is facing deportation because they were convicted of a qualifying criminal offense … than taxpayer dollars would not be used to assist that individual,” said Price, illustrating her desired restrictions.

Criminal offences cited by Price included: “murder, robbery, assault with a weapon, gang related shootings, and crimes of moral turpitude.”

At the meeting, Tania Karina Sawczuk, a Senior Program Associate with Vera, explained that if an individual is convicted of such crimes — and there was no reason to believe their conviction was mishandled — they would be disqualified from receiving legal defense assistance. Instead, she said, they would likely be given a consultation with an attorney who would inform them that they are without options and should accept the removal order.

“The basis of [this fund] is to provide due process and fair legal representation … for immigration [cases],” said Jackson, who had a hand in crafting the agreement.

“There is a reality that our communities face, that our criminal justice system is flawed, and abuse does take place,” said Councilmember Rex Richardson (CD-9).

Deportations have hit both the Latino and Cambodian communities in Long Beach.

Phal Sok, who came to the city as an infant when his family fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, was convicted of second-degree robbery as a teen. After serving a lengthy prison sentence, he became an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition, working with incarcerated juveniles. But his previous conviction led to him receiving a removal order in 2015 and later being detained. During the hearing on Nov. 4, Gonzalez noted that she had penned a letter in support of Sok’s successful bid to receive a pardon by Governor Jerry Brown, which allowed him to stay in the country.

Not as fortunate was Long Beach-resident José Alvarez, a father of six and business owner, who was deported to Mexico in 2016 because of a decades-old drug conviction after being pulled over for a broken headlight.

“This is a perfect example [of] where the deportation fund would have come in and helped him. He was living an exemplary life, paid his dues. Now there’s a broken family,” said Roberto Uranga (CD-7).

Immigrants with past criminal convictions were 74 percent of all arrests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 2017.

According to the Immigration Legal Resource Center, “For people whose convictions effectively close all doors to immigration relief, vacating the conviction in criminal court is the only way to preserve a chance of remaining in the United States.” One common reason that criminal convictions tied to deportations get overturned is that prosecutors in the case did not communicate to a defendant the effect a guilty plea will have on their immigration status.

ICE does not publish city-specific numbers on how many people are deported. However, Andrea Donado, who works within the Latino immigrant community as part of the the Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization, said that in the average month she hears of at least two deportation cases involving local residents.

“We have a strong need for a fund like this .. this [fund] is not a guarantee that they are going to stay in our community, but it’s going to give them a bigger chance,” she said.

Like in the case of Alvarez, often times the person being removed is a family’s breadwinner, leading to their sons or daughters dropping out of school to find work. That continues a cycle of poverty that prevents upward mobility and ripples throughout the community, according to Donado.

Also what happens is that [the family] has to leave Long Beach. Sometimes they end up in San Bernardino, or wherever they can find cheaper housing,” Donado said.

“Deportation is a federal process [but] it does have an impact on local communities therefore it is the business of the city council,” said Richardson.

The legal defense fund is part of a larger strategy to protect the immigrant community in the city laid out in the Long Beach Values Act of 2018, which the council passed in March.

Additional reporting by Kevin Flores.

County and Glendale Freeze rents while both craft alternatives

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Rent Control Advocates Rally Outside of Glendale City Hall, 11/27/18. Photo by: Madison D’Ornellas / FORTHE media. (Glendale City Hall)

Author: Joseph Brizzolara and Andre Coleman / December 6, 2018

This article was originally published by the Pasadena Weekly. 

Despite the defeat of a ballot measure that would have allowed communities to establish their own forms of rent control, rent freezes are being imposed on properties in Glendale, Altadena and other unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County amid a growing tenants’ rights movement in Glendale and Pasadena.

Although Proposition 10 — which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law preventing multi-unit buildings and single-family homes built after 1995 from being placed under rent control ordinances — lost by 19 percent across the state, the measure was embraced by 54 percent of Pasadena voters, or 29,349 of the 53,502 ballots cast, according to final election tallies released by LA County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.

“We are thankful for all the hard work, dedication and amazing solidarity for supporting ‘Yes on Prop 10 campaign’ to repeal a corporate real estate law, Costa Hawkins,” said Nicole Hodgson of the Pasadena Tenants’ Union (PTU). “The power of tenant voices has just begun to be heard.”

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Glendale Tenants Union: City Council Promises 6-Month Rent Freeze

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Glendale, Ca. Source: Wikipedia.org

November 18, 2018

The following is a press release from an organization unaffiliated with The Sprawl. The views expressed here are not those of The Sprawl.

For immediate release. November 14th, 2018

Contact: Mike Van Gorder, (714) 932-6265 or Hayk Makhmuryan, (951) 878-9060. 

info@GlendaleTenants.org

Glendale City Council Promises 6-Month Rent Freeze

In a major victory for Glendale renters, the Glendale City Council requested an emergency rent freeze ordinance that they publicly promised to unanimously pass at the next city council meeting on November 27th. The freeze is intended to protect tenants from reactionary rent increases while city staff draws up both a possible Rent Stabilization Ordinance and a possible “Right to Lease” ordinance.

The Glendale Tenants Union forced last night’s conversation on tenants’ protections after two signature collection campaigns for rent control and five straight months of rallying in large numbers at every city council meeting.

“This is huge. It is a testament to everything that [Glendale Tenants Union] have done that for the first time our City Council is finally actually considering policy that will help tenants,”said GTU founding member Jedidjah de Vries.  “This is not the outcome the landlord and real estate special interest groups wanted. They wanted the City Council to pat us on the head, offer some half-hearted non-solution, and continue ignoring our real needs and concerns”

Mayor Zareh Sinanyan announced his support for rent control in September and directed staff to draft a report on housing, income inequality, and the affordability crisis with dialogue about the potential benefits and drawbacks of a rent control program. Last night’s council meeting was devoted entirely to this grueling nine-hour conversation.

While over 150 Glendale tenants, homeowners and property owners in support of rent control rallied out in front of city hall, dozens of landlords crowded into the lobby, preventing most rent control supporters from getting into the council chambers.

Approximately two-thirds of Glendale rents, and according to the city’s own data, 63% of them are “burdened by housing overpayment,” meaning they pay over 30% of their income on rent (1). This is on top of the 20,000 unit shortfall in affordable units – and a surplus of vacant luxury units (2).

“Unincorporated Los Angeles County just voted 4-1 to create rent stabilization and a majority of Glendale voters chose Yes on Prop Ten. The housing affordability crisis demands immediate action, and this is a good step forward,” said GTU member Hayk Makhmuryan.

The Glendale Tenants Union is an association of Glendale residents that is led by renters, supporting and advocating for our rights together. For more information please visit:

http://www.GlendaleTenants.org or http://www.facebook.com/GlendaleTenants.

1) “Discussion and Direction on the Consideration of and Ordinance Establishing a Program of Residential Rent Control/Rent Stabilization” November 13th, 2018. https://www.ci.glendale.ca.us/government/council_packets/CC_HA_111318/CC_8a_111318.pdf

2) “Discussion of Implementation of an Affordable Housing Strategy”, December 5th, 2017. http://www.ci.glendale.ca.us/government/council_packets/Reports_120517/CC_HA_Item1_120517.pdf

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The Glendale Tenants Union has previously collected signatures for an ordinance establishing Rent Stabilization in the city of Glendale. They were not able to secure enough signatures to have it placed on the November ballot. Glendale is around 64% renters and the median gross rent is $1,355 (according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census). If passed, a temporary rent increase limit of 2.5% would be implemented over a six-month period. Mayor Zareh Sinanyan and Councilmember Vrej Agajanian voted in favor of the rent freeze and Councilmembers Paula Devine and Vartan Gharpetian voted against it. Councilmember Ara Najarian recused himself from the vote, citing the apartment buildings he owns as a conflict of interest.

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The Sprawl posts press releases in order to amplify organizations and facilitate our readers receiving information swiftly and directly. We do not modify press releases and their publication should in no way be inferred as an endorsement of the content contained within.  We encourage readers to contact the author of the release for more information.

To submit a press release email thesprawlpodcast@gmail.com.

 

 

 

“Continued Means of Transitory Immediate and Secure Communication”; LBPD Addresses Long Beach City Council Concerning TigerText Debacle

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LBPD Investigations Bureau Deputy Chief Robert Conant and Patrol Bureau Deputy Chief Wally Hebeish discuss the use of TigerText  in a Public Safety Committee meeting on 10/9/18. Photo by: Madison D’Ornellas / FORTHE media. (Long Beach City Hall)

Author: Joe Brizzolara / October 14, 2018

Long Beach Police Department delivers overview concerning TigerText debacle to L.B. City Council Public Safety Committee. Deputy Chief Richard Conant presented a report (Chief Robert Luna did not speak) to Cmmt. Chair Suzie Price (CD 1), Vice Chair Daryl Supernaw, and Councilmember Al Austin (CD6) on Tuesday afternoon.

A full report on use of the encrypted messaging app, which auto deletes texts and leaves them unrecoverable, should be completed on December 1st by the Department. An investigation is underway by the independently commissioned law firm Best Best & Krieger. Activists have said that this not an independent investigation because of a long-standing relationship between the firm and city officials. The A.C.L.U., after the story broke in an expose published by Al Jazeera, called on the city to end use of the app and warned that this revelation could upend many criminal cases. The District Attorney’s office has opened a review.

Police reform advocates believe this app may have been used to destroy exculpatory evidence in officer-involved shootings. An unnamed Long Beach Police Officer told Al Jazeera he had seen the app being used during the investigation into the shooting of Jason Conoscenti in the Alamitos Beach in 2014.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting:

  1. The LBPD is denying reports that TigerText was used in “an inappropriate manner”.

Conant said the “primary purpose” of TigerText was to allow for “continued means of transitory immediate and secure communication regarding operational and personnel matters” meaning quick, secure chat. The “personnel matters” may be an attempt to establish legal protection for the secreted nature of the messaging. Conant did not claim the messages were “notes” (as was stated by Councilmember Price) which are private and can be legally destroyed by officers. The LBPD used TigerText as a “direct messaging application,” not a “data storage system” (meaning there was no assumption these messages needed to or would be saved). Officers “have a duty to report misconduct at any level” Conant assured the Councilmembers.

An order was sent on September 18th to “immediately” stop using the app. LBPD Administration “acknowledged the optics surrounding” TigerText, and felt ending use “was warranted” to maintain public “confidence”. Documents from both the Police and Financial Departments are being pulled for the review. Subscription to TigerText cost the city $9,8880 in 2017.

  1. City official does not want to call this a “scandal”

Al Austin claims he didn’t know TigerText existed until “recent press reports” but he guesses there stock is up as a result of the media exposure.

“They’re the only winners in this scandal so to speak,” blurted Austin before quickly backpedaling, “I don’t know if I even want to call it a scandal but some have made it that.”

Austin doesn’t believe there was “intent” to withhold information from the public, but he also doesn’t believe “there’s a lot transparency within law enforcement anyway,” with self-acknowledged frankness. “To the extent we can be transparent I think we should be transparent.”

Austin asked Conant “What are the legal requirements for communication transparency for law enforcement in the state of California?” Conant responded the the question was “extremely broad” and he was “not prepared to expand on” it. He reiterated that this app was “not used for note taking.” Austin asked if TigerText is “equivalent” to police radio? Deputy Chief Conant said that it “could be compared to that,” which is “captured data on a recorded line,” but that it could also be likened to a “phone call” which is not recorded.

Price, pulling from her background as a prosecutor, commented that “note destruction” by police officers is completely legal, and that messages sent using TigerText were “digital notes basically” that were “being shared in a group format.”

  1. Councilmember Price really supports body cams

Councilmember Price did not feel comfortable “opining” about whether TigerText use was right or wrong this early in the discovery process. She does believes however, that there are examples of technology (with accompanying protocol) that do need to be implemented in order to make law enforcement more efficient.

“I’ve been saying for years now, we need body cameras” said Councilmember Price. She added that this is not meant to imply there is malfeasance currently going undocumented without body camera footage, but that body cams will inspire more public confidence and is good policy. The Department’s body cam program is currently not active as they search for a new brand after having tried two that didn’t work out. The department reported in January that officers with body cams are less likely to use force and have seen a drop in complaints.

For his part, Councilmember Supernaw was “very brief,” staying “within the scope of this agenda item.” He asked Conant if there are encrypted text messaging options for iPhones that don’t auto delete messages. Conant said that he assumes there are and that the review will vet them thoroughly.  

Also in attendance (audience): Councilmembers Lena Gonzalez (CD1), Jeannine Pearce (CD 2), Roberto Uranga (CD 7), Rex Richardson (CD 9).

“Deleting evidence with TigerText, what will Chief Luna think of next?”; Community groups call for termination of City Manager and LBPD Chief

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Press Conference Demanding Firing of LBPD Chief and City Manager Outside of City Hall (Downtown Long Beach)

Author: Joe Brizzolara / October 2, 2018

Black Lives Matter LBC  and the Democratic Socialists of America – Long Beach, as well as other community groups and residents affected by police violence, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside of city hall shortly before the weekly city council meeting. They demanded the termination of City Manager Pat West and Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna due to the use of the self-deleting messaging app TigerText by police officers.

“Delete Chief Luna, Delete Pat West. Cut P.D.’s budget, reinvest,” organizers chanted.

Al Jazeera reported two weeks ago that officers had been using the app since 2014, and that department administrators had advised the use of TigerText for conversations between officers—making those conversations undiscoverable during litigation. TigerText, now rebranded TigerConnect, is an encrypted messaging application and has a feature that can automatically delete texts after a set time period.

The LBPD has halted use of the app “pending further review of whether the use is consistent with the city’s record retention policy and administrative regulations for the use of mobile devices,” the department said in a statement.

“From a standard and policy perspective there was no malice here, there was no intent to do anything wrong,” Luna told the Los Angeles Times.

However, coalition organizers on Tuesday said they believe the use of the app represents an intentional effort on the part of the police to destroy public records that could have had a bearing on investigations and prosecutions.

“This is the type of communication that would be used in cases where [Long Beach Police Officers] have shot people, where they have killed people. [People] like Donte Jordan, likeTyler Woods, like Lionel Gibson,” said Dawn Modkins of BLM Long Beach, listing individuals shot by officers.

The coalition demanded a reopening of all cases since 2014, with an emphasis on those involving officer-inflicted injuries and for the LBPD to pay all associated costs. Other demands included that the Long Beach Unified School District end its program of stationing officers on campus for security; they want to create community-based mental health teams to respond to crisis situations involving those with mental health issues, rather than having law enforcement be the first response; and they are also demanding an independent investigation of the LBPD’s usage of the app.

City Attorney Charles Parkin and City Manager Patrick West, have announced that they will be commissioning an investigation to be conducted by the law firm Best Best & Krieger, headed by former public-corruption prosecutor, Gary W. Schons. The law firm most recently represented the city in their legal challenges to two ballot opposition arguments against mayor-backed charter amendments that will be voted on in November.

James Suazo of DSA – Long Beach believes this law firm is too closely connected with city leadership to run an independent investigation.

“There’s been numerous cases where they’ve defended the city in legal cases. As long as the city manager, who is obviously complicit, is overseeing this, it’s not a truly independent investigation. What we’re calling for is [an investigation] that the community oversees,” said Suazo.

The coalition, which also included Standing Up for Racial Justice Long Beach and Stop LAPD Spying, holds Luna and West responsible for the debacle because they represent the direct chain of command overseeing departmental affairs.

“The police chief doesn’t report to the mayor or city council, he reports to the city manager. So it’s the city manager’s responsibility to ensure that all of his subordinates are following the law,” said Suazo.

Preceding the press conference, the city council discussed an evaluation of West’s job performance in a closed session.

Coalition members also pointed to the tens of millions the city has had to payout in lawsuits stemming from officer-involved shootings as proof that the department is not upholding the motto displayed on their police vehicles: “to protect and serve.”

“The trust is gone,” said Modkins, speaking about the police department. “It’s been gone for a lot of us.”

Sinking City Savior Gets Spot; The John Parkin Pocket Park

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John Parkin Green Space on E 1st St. and Loma Ave. in Bluff Park, Long Beach.

Author: Joe Brizzolara / August 25th, 2018

A pocket park on 1st and Loma was recently named the “John Parkin Green Space”, after an esteemed petroleum engineer for the city and father of City Attorney Charles Parkin. Parkin died in 2015.

The green space, located in a median in the intersection, is pretty small. Previously, it held a sign labeling the neighborhood, Bluff Historic Park, and an assortment of vegetation.

The renaming was supported by the Bluff Park Neighborhood Association who has been “a driving force for it since the inception of the idea about a year-and-a-half ago,” says Vice President for Communications Michelle Murray.

They brought the idea to Bluff Park Councilmember Suzie Price who originally requested this back in April. It was referred to the Parks and Recreation Commission who sent it to Housing and Neighborhood Committee which approved it. Councilmember Dee Andrews chairs that committee and sponsored the proposal before the council.

Parkin is best known for devising a plan that dramatically affected the development of Long Beach. In the late 50s, Long Beach was literally going under. Pieces of land were sinking due to the huge amount of oil pumping that was going on, causing subsidence. Parkin, along with others, came up with the idea of pumping salt water in the land thereby reversing the effects.

We can also thank Parkin for the offshore oil drilling that still marks Long Beach’s coast. Fear of subsidence motivated Long Beach residents to reject a proposal for offshore drilling in 1958. In ‘62, after the subsidence had stopped, voters approved the initiative. It grants the city rights to control the rate of oil production and repressuring to counteract subsidence. The derricks are disguised as islands, with fake palms and waterfalls. By 2011, the islands had produced a billion gallons of oil.

Along with his accomplished career in petroleum (also working for the Signal Hill Oil Company and the Del Amo Energy Company), Parkin served as a member of the Bluff Park Neighborhood Association and lived there 33 years. He had a special fondness for this pocket park and actually wrote about it the BPNA’s Newsletter in September 2010:

“The irregular shaped intersection was at one time a part of the old PE [Pacific Electric]
right-of-way, long since abandoned. At the intersection there is a triangular shaped patch of pavement, approximately 30 feet on each of its sides, in the center of the intersection. It is this area that is scheduled for landscaping. Because of cost considerations there will be no irrigation system installed, which makes the project somewhat unique. After the city has completed the project, the neighborhood will have to step forward and nourish the planting until it is well established.”

The green space is currently tended to solely by residents of the neighborhood, including Parkin himself when he was still alive.

City attorney Charles Parkin delivered heartfelt thanks to the council, mayor, and BPNA for honoring his father.

“This space is actually right out front of where my grandma used to live, he was always tinkering with [the space] so this is kinda fitting,” said the younger Parkin.

“He was seen as an icon in the neighborhood who was admired by everyone,” said Price in her recommendation to the council.

A dedication took place on Saturday, August 18th.

 

Democracy in Cambodia Town; Support for Citizens Redistricting Charter Amendment Pushes Forward in Long Beach

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Marc Coleman (left) and Alex Norman (right) of Equity for Cambodians, along side Khmer translator Sereivuth Prak (middle), discussing Long Beach’s City Council districts. Photo by: Erin Foley.

Author: Joe Brizzolara / August 5th, 2018

It’s Saturday morning in Cambodia Town. Inside a homey community center, long-time civil rights attorney Dr. Marc Coleman gives the crowd a brief history on the structure of Long Beach’s City Council.

When he first got to Long Beach in the 1970s, city council was elected in at-large elections. Largely believed to be undemocratic, at-large elections have entire jurisdictions elect legislative bodies as a single electorate. This gives dominance to the areas of town with the highest voter turnout, typically the most affluent areas. In Long Beach, this meant that power was concentrated on the east side.

Long Beach Area Citizens Involved fought to successfully transition the city from at-large to district elections in the 1980s. This allowed less represented sections of the city to elect council members from their own communities. Now they want to take the next step and have district maps determined by the citizens rather than the elected officials whose constituency is determined by these very maps.

Coleman’s civic history lesson is being translated into Khmer by Sereivuth Prak. It was here at the MAYE Center, where about 30 people were listening attendly to the speakers, that Equity for Cambodians first blossomed. The center serves as a self-healing space whose members include elders from the Cambodian community and over time their yoga and urban farming classes were eventually joined by civics classes.

This is what democracy looks like in Cambodia Town, a community originally formed largely by refugees fleeing the brutal Khmer Rouge regime whose government carried out a genocide that killed millions. Many, especially the elders, are unfamiliar with a system where political power is acquired through organizing and petitioning the government.

City leadership often lauds Long Beach’s large population of people of Cambodian descent, the largest outside of Cambodia. But after over half a century of residence in Long Beach, this community of roughly 50,000 (according to the L.A. Times) would like to see a Cambodian-American elected to the city council for the first time.

First they have to consolidate themselves into one city council district. Cambodia Town is currently split between Districts 1, 2, 4, and 6, thereby diluting its power as a voting block.

But things are changing.

“I’m proud of my Cambodian community,” said Dr. Song “We’re on the frontline.”

 

The MAYE center partnered with Common Cause, a national good government group, to host the town hall-style event, which featured other community organizations, city officials, and business owners.

This follows successful lobbying on the part of these organizations  to strengthen the citizens redistricting charter amendment originally proposed by Mayor Robert Garcia.

Representatives from 3 of the 4 council districts that Cambodia Town falls into sent representatives to the forum. Only Councilmember Dee Andrew’s office was absent.

“This is a good government item that will inspire public confidence” said Councilmember Al Austin, who spoke at the event.

If passed, this charter amendment would change the way Long Beach determines its city council districts. Every ten years, following the release of the U.S. census, Long Beach (like jurisdictions on all levels of government) redraws the maps of its city council districts. Currently this is performed by the Council itself. Upon approval by the council, Long Beach residents will vote in November on whether to turn the power of the determining these districts from the council to a commission of citizens.

Dan Vicuña, the National Redistricting Manager for Common Cause, spoke at the event, providing background on the process of redistricting which is a central campaign for Common Cause.

“I use to call it the most important issue no one’s heard of,” says Dan Vicuna, national director for redistricting with the organization. “That’s changing.”

Manipulating the redistricting process in order to protect the interests and/or negatively affect a particular party or faction is known as gerrymandering, and it is currently being hotly contested across the country. Groups in Colorado, Missouri and Utah have successfully placed initiatives on the November ballot which would in some way remove lawmakers from the process of drawing district maps.  Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld an independent redistricting commission initiative which was being challenged by a group that was being funded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Vicuna discussed the ways in which redistricting can be manipulated so as to protect the political interests already within power, thereby limiting the democratizing effect of citizen-led redistricting. While taking the responsibility of redistricting away from lawmakers is an obvious first step, Vicuna pointed out that “not at all citizens redistricting commissions are created equally.” Some ostensibly ‘independent’ redistricting commissions can actually be subservient to the officials they are meant to check.

Vicuna pointed to the City of Los Angeles as an example, laying out several elements that comprise its democratic effectiveness. The redistricting commission is advisory; their district map needs to be approved by the city council before taking effect. They are appointed by the councilmember themselves, presenting a conflict of interest. There are no eligibility requirements such as equal representation of party registration, a background that would establish knowledge of government, or prohibition of recently elected officials from joining the commission. Finally, there are no transparency measures, such as a requirement that map deliberation must be made public.

“All reports indicate that [sic] the city of Los Angeles’s commission did exactly what the council members [wanted them to]” concluded Vicuna.

The originally proposed Long Beach charter amendment possessed many of these same undemocratic features. It was advisory. There were no established qualifications for commissioners. There were no transparency measures. And finally, commissioners were to be appointed by the mayor with confirmation from the council.

After reading the first draft, organizers at the MAYE Center quickly realized that the redistricting commission was a trojan horse.

“It was so flawed” said Laura Som, Director of the MAYE Center. “It’s called Citizen Redistricting, but the power [was] still given to the Mayor.”

Equity for Cambodians, in collaboration with Common Cause, worked with the City to draft a new ordinance that addressed many of their concerns.

Instead of being mayor-appointed and council-confirmed, commissioners will be chosen through a ministerial process.

As the language stands now, the city clerk will be tasked with sending commissioner applications to all registered voters citywide who meet certain qualifications. Applicants will then be pared down to a pool of 20 to 30 people by a screening committee—comprised of the Ethics Commission, should one be established by passing of a concurrent but separate charter amendment—during a public meeting.

During that same meeting, the chair of the screening committee will randomly choose nine commissioners from the pool. Those nine will in turn choose the commission’s four remaining members from the same pool they were picked from, forming a commission of 13.

Language was also added that places restrictions on commissioners (as well as their immediate family) running for office or participating in political activities during and after their tenure. There is a requirement that the applicant pool equally represent each city council district, which was of pressing concern to the Cambodian community.  

Som points to a provision in the current official city criteria for redistricting which discourages “splits in neighborhoods, ethnic communities, and other groups having a clear identity,” which she believes the city is in clear violation of by breaking up Cambodia Town.

Some are still unhappy with the language of the redistricting commission amendment. Carlos and Juan Ovalle of People of Long Beach, a newly formed group, voiced their concerns at the meeting: the current draft gives appointment authority to the ethics commission which will be appointed by the mayor. How then can citizens guarantee that the same subversion that would result from direct appointment by the mayor wouldn’t happen by extension of a mayor-appointed ethics commission? They believe that support for the redistricting commission should be rescinded until this concern is addressed.

Dr. Coleman acknowledged that PoLB raised a “good point” but that judgement should be reserved until the design of the Ethics Commission, which is still being formulated, is made clear. Equity for Cambodians and Common Cause point to the qualifications for commissioners as a strong safeguard against political influence, even if they are selected by a mayor-appointed commission. Coleman and Norman assured the crowd that they will be diligent in monitoring the situation.

“We’ll be at the meeting on Tuesday to ensure that the independent status of this commission is superior because that’s what we’re all about” said Dr. Alex Norman with Equity for Cambodians.

That meeting is Today at 3 p.m. at the City Council chambers. It will be the last public hearing for the newly proposed Charter Amendments. Any member of the community that would like an opportunity to voice their thoughts on the amendments is encouraged to attend.

‘Skylines’ and Deadlines; Signature Deadline for Rent Control Initiative Approaches As Tenants Union Rallies in Glendale

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Mike Van Gorder, founding member of the Glendale Tenants Union, outside of City Hall. Photo by: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / August 5th, 2018

The Glendale Tenants Union held yet another rally outside of Tuesday’s City Council meeting this past week.

After signature gathering and speeches (translated into both Armenian and Spanish), the red-shirt donning group of rent control advocates entered the chambers. Union members delivered fiery speeches, calling out councilmembers during public comment as those on the dais responded with sober silence.

“We look forward to working with you one day when you decide to invest your time and care into the residents of Glendale and not the shape of its skyline,” said Mike Van Gorder, a founding member of the G.T.U. “It’s not that this council lacks political courage, [because] they don’t. But this council’s political courage is tied exclusively to the enrichment of mega developers like Rick Caruso.”

Rick Caruso is one of the wealthiest developers in the Greater Los Angeles area. His company, Caruso, is privately held and its portfolio includes the Americana at Brand, a mixed residential-commercial property with 242 apartments and 100 condos in Downtown Glendale. Rent for currently listed units at the Americana begins at $3,050 per month for a one bedroom.

A review of campaign finance records shows that Councilmembers Paula Devine, Ara Najarian and Mayor Sinanyan have all received contributions from the powerful California Association of Realtors Political Action Committee. The California Real Estate PAC contributed around $4.2 million in local and state races in the first six months of this year alone. They strongly oppose rent control.

Councilmember Vartan Gharpetian has received significant campaign contributions from real estate interests, comprising close to 12 percent of total contributions from January 1st, 2017 thru June 30, 2018. Gharpetian is also CEO of Glendale Commercial Inc., a real estate agency.

Hayk Makhmuryan is a member of the G.T.U. and he directed much of his comments to Glendale’s large Armenian community, of which he is a member. He spoke in both Armenian and English and made reference to a resolution involving the Armenian American Museum in Glendale which was discussed that evening. The hat he was wearing was also bilingual. In Armenian it read: ‘with courage’, a popular rally cry during the Armenian Velvet Revolution this past year. In English: ‘Rent Control Now’.

“We talk about cultural preservation and we allow half of our cultural core, the folks that actually make up the diasporic gem that [is] the Armenian community in Glendale [to] be pushed out [by increased rents],” said Makhmuryan.

After delivering comments, the group exited the chambers and continued rallying outside City Hall.

An Aug. 6th deadline approaches and if the G.T.U. is able to submit 10,000 verifiable signatures to the city clerk than their rent control initiative will make it to the November ballot.

“We’re hustling, we’re doing as much as we can,” said Van Gorder about signature gathering. “We’re trying to not look at it in terms of ‘this is it’… this is a really long campaign.”

If passed, the new ordinance will cap rent increases at 4.5 percent annually and will establish a rent board. Read a detailed summary of the ordinance here.

The G.T.U. believes this is much needed for a community that is 61.9 percent renters, according to the 2010 census, and is facing dramatic rent increases fueled by real estate speculation and high-end development.

Karim Sidi, a 20-year resident of Glendale, got involved with the G.T.U. in response to dramatic rent increases, of which he has been personally affected. Last year his rent went up $200 a month. This past month, he claims it’s increased another $200 a month.

“Plus the building got sold, so that means that most likely the rents are going to be increased by the new landlords because that’s what’s going on around Glendale,” said Sidi.

The G.T.U. has had some setbacks. Last year, they were they involved with another rent control initiative which fell short of verifiable signatures. This initiative was led by community members with minimal political organizing experience, not the G.T.U. which formed 3 months after signature gathering had already begun.

They say they learned a lot from this first attempt though, and have sought legal aid this time around. State election law mandates that if the signature threshold is not met, organizers have to start from scratch if they want to submit new signatures.

Similar rent control initiatives launched in Long Beach, Inglewood, and neighboring Pasadena were unsuccessful in making it to the ballot.

“A lot of people [have said] ‘Ah I already signed this. Why didn’t it work?’ and they get frustrated with the whole process. But this is a multiple-campaign type [process] and it has to be,” said Van Gorder. “We don’t know how we’re going to win. We just know that eventually we will”

 

The Compliance Business; Long Beach City Council Approves Recreational Cannabis Ordinance; Some are pleased, some not so much

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Graphic by: Kevin Flores / FORTHE media.

 

Author: Joe Brizzolara / July 1, 2018

This article was published in collaboration with FORTHE media

Legal sales of recreational cannabis in Long Beach could begin as early as August 2018. Last month, the Long Beach City Council voted to advance an adult-use ordinance after its first public hearing. On Tuesday, a second vote will take place and, if passed (which is expected), the ordinance will be formally implemented.

The first vote was 7-1 in favor, with Councilmember Stacy Mungo being the lone dissenter.

“Everyone has to pass it tonight,” Mungo remarked, showing frustration. “I’ve heard that at least 40 times in a week.”

She wanted more time to work on the language of the ordinance, possibly placing guarantees that dispensaries hire residents of the districts that the dispensaries are operating in.

“My goal would be that we have adult-use available in the city September 1st,” she said.

Currently, only medical marijuana sales are legal in the city of Long Beach. In order to make a purchase, a customer must have a letter of recommendation from a doctor advising that they would benefit from medicinal cannabis.

Stefan Borst-Censullo is an activist and attorney who represents cannabis businesses in Long Beach. He has also been a city-registered lobbyist for various cannabis businesses since 2015.

“I’m known to be one of the more critical people of the city in general but this ordinance appears to be pretty well-crafted. I was happy to see it pass,” he said. “It’s a far cry from even a couple of years ago. You can really see the progress on this issue.”

Recreational cannabis will be available to all those 21 years or older. Pot shops will be allowed to stay open until 9 p.m. and delivery services can operate until 10 p.m.

Adam Hijazi, co-owner of the Long Beach Green Room, a local dispensary, and a founding member of the Long Beach Collective Association, a trade association consisting of cannabis business owners, was pleased with the vote.

He has some concerns about the ordinance—including a provision that gives the city access to financial records and security footage without a warrant or notice—but ultimately believes that this is a needed step forward.

Hijazi says that the current medical-only policy is creating a nuisance, claiming street dealers often loiter outside of his shop, eager to pick up on customers he is forced turn away because they don’t have a letter of recommendation from a doctor.

He thinks that once cannabis sales become more normalized in the city, regulations will ease up.

“We’re not moving nuclear waste from one place to another. But that’s how it’s being treated,” he said.

Zoning Out

The ordinance will add a designation in the zoning code for adult-use cannabis businesses, which will track with similar businesses depending on their type. For instance, dispensaries will be allowed to locate in commercial areas and cultivators and manufacturers will be allowed to locate in industrial areas. Existing medical marijuana businesses will be allowed 180 days to apply for adult-use licenses regardless of new zoning restrictions.

Buffer zones that restrict adult-use cannabis businesses from operating in certain parts of the city will be the same as those currently being enforced for medical marijuana businesses. Cannabis businesses cannot operate within a 1,000 feet of the beach or a school. They also cannot operate within 600 feet of a library, park, or daycare center.

State law also prohibits cannabis businesses from placing billboards within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, and youth centers. The city’s ordinance removes youth centers and playgrounds from the list but adds public parks.

Businesses will be required to obtain a health permit from the city’s Health and Human Services Department before beginning operation. They will also be required to attend training offered by the department, which will cover topics such as prevention of underage use, risks of driving under the influence of cannabis, and safe storage methods.

The Other Kind of Green

The proposed ordinance will levy an eight percent tax on all recreational sales, which will be in addition to the state-imposed tax cultivators are charged on each ounce of marijuana buds produced. Cannabis purchasers face a state-imposed 15 percent state tax on cannabis purchases on top of the normal sales tax, which in Long Beach is 10.25 percent.

Staff predicts an increase of about $4.5 million in revenue from cannabis sales for the 2019 fiscal year.

But the city’s Cannabis Program Manager, Ajay Kolluri, cautioned the council to not count their chickens before they’ve hatched. With the state’s revenue expectations for cannabis falling short, staff warned the council that the city might also see less than expected revenue.

“Cannabis tax revenues are incredibly difficult to predict,” Kolluri said.

It’s nearly assured that the new regulatory costs of cannabis sales will result in a net loss for the city in the 2018 fiscal year, he said, and new fees may be proposed to offset these costs in the future.

“For next fiscal year (2019) we’re expecting to break even,” he said.

Additionally, medical sales in Long Beach are producing significantly less revenue in 2018 than was expected. The city predicted it would rake in about $5.2 million in new revenue but, according to the staff report, is expecting less than half that by the end of the 2018. This partly has to do with a slower rate of business creation and licensing than originally anticipated. It is also likely a result of cannabis consumers not being able to purchase in Long Beach without a medical card while there are nearby options where only an I.D. is required.

“The city’s not making the tax money and the legal dispensaries are not able to compete,” Hijazi said of the current situation.

Currently, adult-use dispensaries are allowed to operate in the cities of Santa Ana and Bellflower.

Equity Hire

The Equity Hire program is an element in the proposed ordinance that seeks to mitigate and recompense the ravaging effects that the war on drugs has had on low-income communities and communities of color, which have experienced the highest rates of low-level arrests for possession and use of marijuana.

First developed in Oakland (though they’ve been hitting a snag as of late), the program offers both mandates and incentives with the goal of hiring from low-income communities, as well as individuals who have marijuana convictions on their backgrounds. These convictions often prevent them from gaining employment in other fields.

Long Beach’s program was devised by the Offices of Equity and the Office of Cannabis Management. To qualify, an individual must come from a family whose annual income is less than 80 percent of the median income in the area, have a net worth below $250,000, and have either a marijuana conviction in Long Beach before Nov. 8, 2016 that under current law would be considered a misdemeanor or infraction. If a person doesn’t have a weed conviction, they can still qualify if they’ve lived in a census tract for the past three years where at least 51 percent of the population lives at 80 percent or below of the area median income. Below is a map that shows which areas qualify:

census tract equity hire

Source: June 19, 2018 city staff report on proposed adult-use cannabis ordinance.

An amendment was attached to the ordinance that would require cannabis businesses to guarantee that 40 percent of work hours are performed by individuals who meet these criteria. A “good faith” effort to meet this requirement must be proved by employers, otherwise warning and citations may be handed out by the city. If an employer can prove that there are insufficient numbers of people in their labor pool that meet this criteria, delays and lessening of requirements may be issued.

For those who meet the criteria and want to start their own cannabis business (other than a storefront, which has been capped), fee waivers, tax deferrals, expedited plan checks, application reviews, and application workshops will be offered.

The Equity Hire fee is expected to be around $2,000 per cannabis business and will help pay for the initial cost of the program, which will be $266,000. The program will be administered by Pacific Gateway, an employment agency already contracted by the city for other workforce services.

Peace, Labor, and Understanding

Continuing a standard already put in place by the medical marijuana ordinance, all cannabis businesses will be required to sign a labor peace agreement upon approval of their application. The agreement prohibits cannabis businesses from interfering in employees unionizing. Matt Bell, Executive Vice President of UFCW Local 324, which represents a little over 100 cannabis employees in Long Beach, spoke at the city council meeting two weeks ago before the vote.

“[Around] 70 percent of the people that go into the dispensaries today think it’s recreational and therefore leave [when they discover it is only medical]. And so, without passing this tonight, it really is a death sentence for these businesses and for good union jobs in the city,” Bell said. “Some of these young folks in these shops have actually turned to us and said, ‘I’m so excited, I can go home and I have the same benefits [as other union workers]. I have a great living wage. I can tell my parents. I can move out. I can have insurance. I have a pension. I have all the things that a good job requires.’”

Attorney Borst-Censullo says that the UFCW was instrumental in getting adult-use passed in Long Beach.

“There would be no legal weed in this city without UFCW. UFCW kept this issue alive when no one thought the advocates had a chance in hell.”

First Come, First Delivered?

While licensed cannabis businesses are enthused about their new customer base, some feel excluded, even going so far as to say that the city has given a monopoly to the companies already established in Long Beach.

This sentiment stems from a controversial aspect of the new ordinance, which states that in order to open a recreational cannabis shop, a business must co-locate with an existing medical cannabis business. This means that all recreational shops will be owned by medical dispensaries.

Measure MM is the Long Beach voter initiative that removed a city council ban on medical marijuana sales. It passed in 2016—the same day a statewide proposition passed legalizing recreational use—and was drafted by the Long Beach Collective Association (which some feel is a form of regulatory capture). It limits the number of medical cannabis dispensaries that can operate in the city to 32. No new recreational shops will be created unless the city decides to alter the ordinance and allow recreational shops to open without also being licensed medical shops.

The cap on cannabis licenses only applies to retail shops. New cultivation grows and manufacturers will be allowed to open in Long Beach after their application has been approved.

Still, Kolluri said “dozens” of unlicensed delivery services are currently operating in Long Beach, a claim supported by the number of listings for delivery services on Weedmaps, an app used by consumers to find nearby pot shops and other services.

John (who asked not to be identified by his real name) has owned one such unlicensed delivery service that has operated in the city for five years and says that he would have greatly appreciated a pathway to go legitimate. None of the licensed medical storefronts currently have delivery services registered with the city.

Kolluri gives more background: “[Measure MM] allows for storefront dispensaries to deliver, so a delivery service would have needed to go through that process. They didn’t actually have to operate in the storefront, they could have chosen to be delivery only, but because the medical initiative had a hard cap of 32, and the city as well as the state considers delivery services to be dispensaries, they fall under that cap of 32.”

John believes that a small group of businesses have successfully lobbied the city to give them exclusive control over an extremely lucrative and expanding industry and that the promises that small businesses would get new opportunities is not being honored by this ordinance.

“It’s windfall [for existing medical businesses], they’re the only only ones who are legally going to be allowed to make money,” he said. “I would, right now, go down to city [hall], get licensed, and start paying taxes. But they’re not even giving us the opportunity.”

In order to have even entered the medical license lottery—its first round was held in 2010, and a second in 2016—dispensary owners had to pony up a $14,742 non-refundable permit application fee to the city. Winners are charged an additional $10,000 annual permit fee, a high price to go legit for those with less access to large sums of startup capital.

Borst-Censullo, who represents businesses in the Long Beach Collective Association, believes that licensed businesses are being rightfully rewarded for years of stakeholding in Long Beach while uncertainty loomed over whether the city would ever get behind legalizing recreational cannabis. He also notes that a delivery service operating in Long Beach is doing so illegally, and to criticize the new ordinance without ever having demonstrated a willingness to comply with existing law is hypocritical.

“[The ordinance] is specifically designed to exclude people that have no interest in complying with the law. People who have been holding on to property for 4 to 5 years, paying rent on it, with no income in order to establish the good faith with the city and get the medical license process going … This wasn’t a smoke-filled back-room deal,” said Borst-Censullo. “This was brought out transparently for years.”

He also stresses that the 32 cap was approved by voters through Measure MM.

“Thirty-two businesses for the size of the city we’re in… that’s pretty diverse,” Borst-Censullo argues. “I can understand [illegal operators’] frustrations, but they would be better suited to try and open up in a new area. Long Beach is not the [only option].”

Sacramento, which has a similar population to Long Beach, currently has 30 cannabis dispensaries operating, 28 of which can sell both medical and recreational cannabis.

Another comparable city, Oakland, has 16 permitted dispensaries. Its ordinance restricts the number of dispensary permits issued to eight a year, but this cap does not apply to delivery services.

While the Long Beach dispensary cap is similar to what other cities have imposed, it pales in comparison to the 338 active liquor licenses for off-premise consumption issued in the city, according to the most recent data from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Fears that the cannabis industry in Long Beach could eventually be monopolized by a few large companies are exacerbated by the fact that licenses can be easily sold and transferred among businesses.

“There’s not really an administrative process. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a change of ownership process,” Kolluri explains. “They would have to complete a form with the city. We would need to run background checks on the new owners.”

A new cannabis license application would not be necessary and the new business owners could continue to operate while the city processes the change of ownership.

Currently, Show Grow, a cannabis company with dispensaries in Orange County and Las Vegas, owns six of the 32 licenses, according to Kolluri. Is it possible that one or two businesses will buy all the cannabis licenses in the city a few years down the line?

“Hypothetically, yes that’s possible,” said Kolluri.

Greg Gammet, the Chief Cannabis Officer for GF Distribution LLC, a business that won their licence in 2016 and will be opening a dispensary on Seventh Street and Pacific Coast Highway in the coming months, says he’s a firm believer in playing by the book but also sympathizes with illegal operators.

“I’ve been in the cannabis business a long time. I was that guy,” Gammet said, referring to those operating in the shadows. “I feel for them. I don’t want to say anything bad about [illegal operators] because the industry is built on the backs of guys like them and I respect them tremendously. At the same time there’s a set of rules and regulations.”

Gammet does have one idea for illegal operators looking to get licensed:

“I encourage them, especially if they’re on the up and up, to reach out to businesses like me and see if somehow we can bring them on for being our delivery service when we’re up and running.”

He has a counter-intuitive description of his industry: “We’re not in the marijuana business, we’re in the compliance business.”

#HomesBeforeArenas; Tenants Rights Activists Announce Lawsuit Against City of Inglewood

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Inglewood City Hall

Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 19, 2018

Earlier Today at a press conference outside of Inglewood City Hall, The Uplift Inglewood Coalition announced they will be suing the City of Inglewood for violation of the California Surplus Land Act. The group claims the City violated the state law—which mandates the prioritization of affordable housing in the development of unused city owned land— by entering into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Murphy’s Bowl.

Murphy’s Bowl is a company controlled by the Clippers. They want to purchase three parcels of city land near the intersection of Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard to build a new basketball arena.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (E.N.A.) on June 15th, 2017. The agreement establishes a 36-month period for a potential purchase to be reviewed and includes a 1.5 million non-refundable deposit to cover the city’s costs of exploring the environmental and fiscal impact of the purchase.  

This is not the first lawsuit stemming from this E.N.A. The L.A. Times reported on a suit brought against Inglewood by the Forum, who alleges that Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. fabricated a “fraudulent scheme” which green lighted Murphy’s Bowl rather than facilitating a competitive bidding process.

The Surplus Land Act “requires a local agency disposing of surplus land to give first priority in a purchase or lease to an entity agreeing to use the site for housing for persons of low or moderate income.”

“People are being displaced because of the development that is happening” said Uplift Inglewood organizer Derek Steele.

Uplift Inglewood is being represented by Katie McKeon, a fellow with Public Counsel. Public Counsel is a nation-wide pro bono law firm. They will be joining The Public Interest Law Project and the law firm Cozen O’Connor in litigating this case on behalf of Uplift Inglewood.

“We wholeheartedly support [Uplift Inglewood’s] goal of promoting equitable development in Inglewood. We want all sectors of the community to enjoy the benefits of economic development,” said McKeon.

“The city should be using every tool at its disposal to create safe, stable, affordable housing.”

“The Surplus Land Act requires cities and counties to notify certain governmental agencies and affordable housing developers whenever there is surplus land available,” explained McKeon.

One press conference attendant asked whether there is an Affordable Housing developer already lined up if the courts do decide to invalidate the arena agreement.

“It’s not our job to find the affordable housing developer,” said McKeon. “It’s the job of the city to follow state law and offer it to developers.”

Behind the event’s speakers, group members held signs reading “Save Our Community” and “#HomesBeforeArenas”.

Along with this lawsuit, Uplift Inglewood is currently waging a rent control initiative. Steele says that they have collected the signatures (above the minimum required) which are currently under review by the County. If certified, Inglewood residents will vote on whether to add an amendment to the City’s Charter which would cap rent increases. 65.3% of housing units in the city are rentals according to the 2016 Census.

Last Night @ City Council: Proposed Charter Changes and Watering Woes

Last Night @ City Council is a weekly report on the goings on of Long Beach’s City Council by Forthe.Org. This weeks features contributions from The Sprawl Chief-Editor Joe Brizzolara. Matters discussed include: proposed Charter Amendments that could dramatically alter Long Beach’s electoral process (the creation of a Citizens Commission charged with redistricting and an end to a term limits exemption for write-in candidates) and Water Department; an appropriation of funds to combat homelessness; and debate concerning the browning of the city’s green spaces.

Excerpt:

The Council last night held the first of three special meetings required to get five mayor-proposed amendments of the city charter on the November ballot.

The first amendment proposes to establish a Citizens Redistricting Commission in order to address long-running gerrymandering of council district boundaries. Under the current system, city staff develops new district maps, which then go before the council for approval.

If passed, the new amendment would create a commission of citizens who would be charged with redrawing  districts that would replace the current ones in 2021. The districts would have to be geographically compact, utilize natural boundaries, and keep neighborhoods intact.

The city’s Cambodian community has been both a main target of discrimination in redistricting, and a leader in the fight for it, as was acknowledged last night by the mayor and the public… Read More

Not “C”-ing Eye to Eye in Irvine; Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Measure C in Irvine

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Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 11, 2018

Last Tuesday, the voters of Irvine overwhelmingly passed Measure C. The measure will require a 2/3rds majority on its City Council to place a new tax on a ballot for voter approval. Measure C was the only one of three measures to be approved by voters in Irvine last week, with Measures B and D failing. The final vote count is 76.6% yes and 23.4% no.

The measure was supported by a majority of the Council, the Irvine Taxpayers Association, the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce, and the Orange County Taxpayers Association, which lobbied to have it placed on the ballot.

Measure C was placed on the ballot back in February with a Council vote of 3-5. Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Melissa Fox voted against placing it on the ballot.

Councilman Lalloway wanted to hold off until November, fearing that its fate might get conflated with Measures B and D which proved unpopular with voters.

Councilmember Fox argued that a 2/3rds requirement could prove difficult during hard fiscal times for the city when new revenue needs to be generated quickly. She also points out that since the taxes need to be approved by voters, a 2/3rds requirement will hinder residents being able to weigh in.

“We will not always be in the same situation that we are in now,” said Fox in her comments before the vote.

“I want to respect the ability of the residents of the future and the councils of the future to vote in a majority [for a new tax].”

Mayor Don Wagner proposed the measure and agrees with Councilmember Fox about one thing.

“Ms. Fox is right, this will make it harder to raise taxes in the future. That is exactly its point. Is that a valid criticism? No, that is the strength of the measure.”

Councilmember Lalloway, a Republican, emphasizes that if the Measure had been placed on the November ballot (when he will be up for re-election) he would have supported it unequivocally: “We should not look to raise the taxes of our residents. Ever. There’s plenty of revenue and when there are tough times the city needs to tighten its belt and not try to raise taxes. We also have a contingency reserve that can be used in tough times. That’s what it’s for.”

Carolyn Cavecche is the C.E.O. of the Orange County Taxpayers Association and was Mayor of the City of Orange during the ‘08 financial collapse. She remembers hard times when the city was hemorrhaging revenue. Ultimately, she believes that if a city is in great enough need for new revenue they should have no problem getting 4 councilmembers to sign off on it.

“If a tax is really needed, than four [councilmembers] are going to be in favor of it.”

Currently, all “general law” cities require a 2/3rds majority for new taxes to be proposed. General law cities run on state laws while “charter cities” have a charter which establishes laws unique to their city. Of the 10 charter cities in Orange County, 4 have now passed charter amendments that establish a 2/3rds requirement. Along with Irvine, these cities include Anaheim, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach.

“We are one of the few cities in California that doesn’t have this protection and it was my thought that we ought to have it,” says Mayor Wagner, who proposed the measure.

The 2/3rds requirement went into effect when voters passed Proposition 62 back in 1986. Orange County overwhelmingly voted yes on 62, with around 67% of votes in favor. The law extended this requirement to General Law cities alone, hence the current push to pass amendments in charter cities.

While the Orange County Register’s assertion that there was no “organized opposition” to this measure seems largely true, the group Irvine for Responsible Growth did oppose the measure. Most of their efforts were focused on successfully defeating Measures B and D, but Janis Morris, an organizer with the group, penned an op-ed for their website arguing against its passing titled “I JUST DON’T ‘C’ IT.”

According to the City Clerk’s office, “No direct argument against the proposed measure was filed.” Morris says that she inquired about submitting a rebuttal to the argument in favor, but was unable to because no argument against (the first step in the process) was submitted before the deadline.

She draws attention to the subtle math of a 2/3rds requirement in a five person legislative body: “We pass everything on a majority of 3 votes out of 5. That’s 60%. “C” in reality will require 4 of 5 votes, or 80%.”

“We can declare war with a smaller percentage,” Morris dryly asserts.

But Cavecche finds this argument facile: “That’s just math.”

“We could have said 4/5ths but the reason we don’t is because one, 2/3rds is the general term you use (at the state level) and [two], we don’t know that Irvine is going to stay at a 5 person council. The city of Anaheim just went from being a 5 person council to a 7 person council.”

“2/3rds is just the standard that is used.”

Cavecche points out that Californians are leaving for other states with lower taxes and this measure is meant to curb that problem.

“The burden to live in California is huge.”

Cavecche couldn’t point to an example of a tax proposed in Orange where the 2/3rds requirement (Orange is a general law City) had a critical effect but she did point to an instance in Westminster in 2016.

Westminster was in hard fiscal times and was relying on cuts and its reserves to stay afloat. Councilmember Margie Rice proposed a new sales tax to place before the voters. Because his vote was critical to secure a 2/3rds majority, Mayor Tri Ta was able to secure a 6-year limit on the tax. Cavecche believes it’s highly likely that with only a 3 member threshold, the Council would have likely sent a tax to the voters that would have been in perpetuity.

“There are councils where it’s hard to get the 2/3rds threshold and I [do not] think that’s a bad thing.”

Mayor Wagner acknowledges that the amendment’s effects are meant to be long term.

“This isn’t to fix a problem, this is to stop a problem from happening in the future.”

Morris has a different reading.

“This is clearly a solution in search of a problem.”

Rhetoric or Reality: Different Shades of Blue Gunning For Long Beach CD-7 Seat

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On the left, Jared Milrad, from his film “30 to Life”. On the right, Roberto Uranga at a recent City Council meeting. Edited by: Kevin Flores / FORTHE media.

Author: Erin Foley, Joe Brizzolara, Kevin Flores, Andrew Carroll / June 4, 2018

Long Beach’s City Council District 7 goes to the polls on Tuesday to choose their councilmember. No candidate was able to secure 50 percent or more of the vote in the April 5 primary election, so Tuesday’s runoff will be held between the two top vote earners. They are incumbent Roberto Uranga, who received 49.2 percent of the vote, and Jared Milrad, who got 30.3 percent. We interviewed both of the candidates, took a look at the issues of the race, the mudslinging between the opponents, and their campaign finances. This report is a collaboration between FORTHE Media and The Sprawl.

Resumes

Uranga has lived in the district for over 35 years and has worked for the city for 29 years. This includes a 14-year stint on the Long Beach Community College District Board. His wife, Tonia Uranga, served two terms as councilmember for District 7. Along with the City Council, Uranga also serves on the California Coastal Commission.

Jared Milrad has lived in the district for a few years. His resume includes interning for former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, organizing for the Service Workers International Union, and doing fundraising for the Obama presidential campaign. He also has a film production company and was featured in a Hillary Clinton campaign video, which garnered him national attention.

Both candidates have referred to themselves as “progressives” and seem to represent two sides of Long Beach. Milrad’s squeaky clean presentation and socially liberal and environmentally focused messaging has echoes of Robert Garcia’s pre-mayoral campaigning days. Uranga’s long standing connection with his district and organized labor has given his campaign a more old-school democrat air.

Uranga has received endorsements from many organizations and individuals that hold serious political weight in Southern California including: the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Association of Long Beach Employees, and California Nurses Association. Some key political endorsements include: Congressman Alan Lowenthal, State Senator Kevin de León, and Assemblymember (and former Long Beach Councilmember) Patrick O’Donnell. He’s also been endorsed by Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia spoke at a recent Get-Out-The-Vote event at the Uranga Headquarters—nicknamed the “House of Labor”—and gave a glowing endorsement.

Milrad’s resume has been an issue of contention in this race. From a Uranga mailer: “Milrad claims to be a business owner and public interest attorney … Milrad’s ‘business’ just received its license a few weeks ago and he isn’t credentialed to practice law.”

At the time of publication, Milrad refutes this claim on his website: “Jared has never been a licensed or practicing attorney, and he has never claimed that he is. Jared has only used the term ‘lawyer,’ which has colloquially been used to describe an individual with a law degree.”

When we pressed Uranga’s campaign, they did not produce proof that Milrad had called himself a “public-interest attorney,” like they say in their mailer. However, they pointed to language from the Bar Association that frowns upon anyone calling themselves a lawyer if not practicing law.

Mildred apparently refers to himself as an “attorney (non-entertainment)” on a profile that appears to be self-written on a networking site for people in the entertainment business.

On the matter of business ownership, Milrad claims that as sole proprietor of “A Show for Change” he was not required to file with the California Secretary of State. He purports to have filed a “Doing Business As” (DBA) with Los Angeles County in 2016 which was accepted by the Long Beach City Clerk as proof for his ballot designation as “Small Business Owner” in this election. Neither of the campaigns responded to requests to substantiate their claims.

Another sore spot in this election has been Milrad’s hammering of Uranga for his attendance record. He has stated that Uranga is the “second-most absentee councilmember.” Uranga claims that the numbers are off and that he’s actually the fourth-most present Councilmember. The Press-Telegram reviewed Milrad’s data and found that he had accurately counted missed votes when cross-checked with documents provided by the City Clerk. Both claims appear to be accurate. Uranga has missed 4 meetings in the last 8 years, making him fourth most present Councilmember by that standard.

District 7 is composed of stark socioeconomic contrasts. The eastern portions of the neighborhoods include middle- and upper middle-income households. Across the Los Angeles river, is the West Side, a collection of dense, working-class neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in the east part of the district, like Bixby Knolls and Los Cerritos, have a median household income around 40 percent higher than the West Side. Statistics like this have made some question whether the city invests resources equitably throughout the district.

Issue 1: LGB Airport

The effects of the Long Beach Airport on noise pollution is a significant issue in this race. Many residents who live in the flight path of the planes complain about the loud noise they are forced to live with. This was one of the concerns that stopped the airport from going international last year. Stacy Mungo (CD-5), whose district encompasses the airport, filed a motion to halt a staff recommendation that the airport add a federal inspection station for customs and immigration. This would have allowed for international flights. Uranga voted in favor of the motion.

Milrad has criticized Uranga for not doing enough to enforce a noise ordinance that fines airliners like Jet Blue for late night flights that cause loud disturbances. He believes that in addition to fines (which he says might need to be raised) the city should also consider penalizing offending airlines with the loss of terminal slots. A proposal currently before the airport advisory commission may do just that, which Milrad says he supports.

Uranga voted in favor of upholding fines leveled against Jet Blue by the City. He stated in an email that he does “not support any changes that may have the possibility of jeopardizing the noise ordinance” and does “support holding airlines accountable for their violations to the noise ordinance, including harsher penalties.”

Issue 2: I-710: Reckless Expansion or Modernization?

Expansion of the 710 Freeway has been a pressing issue in this race. Milrad claims that along with increasing congestion and pollution with more roadways, the 710 Freeway expansion would displace hundred of residents that live along its path. During a forum at the Petroleum Club on May 23, Uranga said that it is not an expansion but rather a “modernization” that will not displace people as Milrad is claiming.

“I have never been in favor a 710 [Freeway] expansion that includes displacement,” said Uranga.

Uranga chaired the I-710 Oversight Committee and voted in favor of Alternative 5C. This proposed expansion was ultimately approved by Metro. Along with adding a new lane, 5C will add dedicated truck lanes, new air quality standards, bikeways, and walkways.

Uranga is proud of his tenure on the Oversight Committee, saying: “I worked with Mayor Garcia, the MTA, the Port of Long Beach, and other entities to ensure that improvements were made to the 710 Freeway that will not displace any residents, that will greatly improve vehicle safety and that will also bring $200 million to fund zero and near zero emission trucks that utilize the I-710 corridor. It will separate trucks from vehicles and make the 710 [Freeway] safer to travel without [the] trucks versus cars scenario we have now.”

However, Milrad doesn’t believe that the freeway is the way to the future.

“In 2018, we shouldn’t be widening freeways anymore,” says Milrad. “It’s a relic of the past. We know that when we widen freeways, every single time, it increases both traffic and pollution.”

Milrad favors investing in public transportation (such as light rail) over expanding the 710. Along with environmental and congestion concerns, Milrad points to a State of California Department of Transportation report on Alternative 5C, which concludes that “at least 400 people will be displaced.”

The report in question states: “Alternative 5C would result in a total of 158 nonresidential relocations and 109 residential relocations. Based on an average of four persons per residential unit, alternatives [would] result in the relocation of approximately 436 residents.”

Ernesto Chavez, Metro’s highway program director, told the Press-Telegram that a majority of affected units would be in the City of Commerce, not in Long Beach. Because Metro has not yet secured funding for the project, the Board of Directors has advised them to focus on smaller upgrades first. This will lower the amount of units affected. Chavez said that any relocation is at least a decade off.

Milrad believes that other improvements need to be made. These include mandated zero-emissions trucks (which is slated for 2035, but which Milrad says should come sooner), heightened barrier walls (which is included under alternative 5C), and a dedicated truck lane (also included in 5C). Other issues not addressed by Metro, Milrad says include an increase of “open space” in District 7 (with more trees resulting in a decrease in carbon emissions) and a build-up of the Atlantic Avenue and Alameda Street corridors.

Taylor Thomas, from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, believes Metro’s plan, which Uranga supports, doesn’t go far enough to protect the communities around the project.

“[…] When you read the EIR (environmental impact report), even when you read the motion that the Metro Board put forward, it doesn’t bring us the zero emissions that communities asked for and need. It is still missing a lot of the components that would make it a holistic project as well as the components that the Metro Board passed in 2015.”

District 7 includes part of the I-710 corridor known as the “Diesel Death Zone” where pollution from trucks coming and going from the ports and rail yards is rampant, causing the surrounding residents—mostly communities of color—to have the lowest life-expectancy in the city and an increased rate of serious health complications, such as asthma and cancer.

And now displacement could be on the horizon for some of them, Taylor said.

“People’s homes are absolutely still in danger. The way that the Metro Board and even some of our City Council framed it was, ‘There’s not going to be any displacement in the early action projects,’ but that is not the entire project. When you look at what’s codified and actually what’s going to happen and you look at the Metro motion, there’s no directive to completely eliminate displacement.”

Milrad points to Uranga’s vote on Alternative 5C as proof of his bias favoring oil companies that have donated to his campaign.

“I think we need someone who’s going to serve our community, not outside special interests,” says Milrad.

Uranga sees it differently: “Some folks are content to do nothing about the 710 Freeway, including my opponent, but I know that we can improve the freeway without displacing residents.”

That is yet to be seen.

Issue 3: Homelessness

Milrad believes Long Beach should follow the the City of Los Angeles’s lead and build more supportive housing, along with assigning caseworkers to every homeless individual.

He points out that this system has worked in other cities such as Salt Lake City and will save money in the long run when accounting for a reduction in public safety costs such as arrests and emergency room visits. A study done in Los Angeles County supports this conclusion. Milrad considers homelessness a “human rights issue.”

Uranga says he shares his opponent’s compassion for homeless people and points to his record as proof that he is willing to take unpopular stances in order to provide them with services. This includes the opening of a mental health center in District 7 that he says was met with criticism by residents but which he ultimately supported.

Another accomplishment Uranga cites is the creation of additional beds for homeless veterans at Villages at Cabrillo, a residential community in District 7 that offers permanent and transitional housing for those affected by homelessness. He also touts a homeless task force recently created by Mayor Garcia, which teams city officials with service providers to consider new tactics for battling homelessness, however, he did not specify his role in it’s creation and is not himself on it. He also says he supports the creation of transitional housing and the use of housing vouchers.

Rene Castro, with the Villages at Cabrillo, says that of the 75 units that Uranga is referring to, most are “straight affordable.” This means that those who have successfully applied for the program are only required to pay 30 percent of their income to rent. Other units have “intensive case management” meaning the applicants have a disability that requires an individually assigned case worker. The facility is modern-looking, more akin to a building on a college campus than public housing.

Castro says that Uranga is a familiar face on the 27-acre campus, having recently attended the dedication of a mural. Castro also says that he is often in contact with Uranga’s office, having just recently contacted his chief of staff about agendizing an item for a future City Council meeting..

“I’m proud that we have over 1,100 affordable housing units in the Seventh District and am willing to meet with any group or agency that would like to build additional units,” Uranga said.

According to a 2017 homeless count released by the City, homelessness is down 21 percent from 2015. Between 2013 and 2017, Districts 7, 8 and 9 saw an increase of 7 percent in the percentage of the city’s homeless residing within those districts. In 2017, Districts 7, 8 and 9 contained 30 percent of the city’s homeless population.

“Many in the community believe that homelessness is increasing in the City, when, in reality, what is occurring is a broader dispersion across the city,” the homeless count report states.

Issue 4: Rent Control

With some question remaining as to whether affordable housing advocates will be able to get a rent control initiative on the ballot in Long Beach, residents all over the city are discussing (sometimes heatedly) rent control. Milrad, despite his progressive messaging, has opposed rent control outright. Uranga has taken a middle path, saying he is personally opposed to rent control, but supports a ballot measure that will allow voters to decide.

“I have my own opinion, I am not a rent control supporter. But it’s not my decision,” said Uranga at the forum earlier this month.

Milrad says that his reasons for not supporting rent control are two-fold: it lowers the amount of market-rate units which drives up prices, and it is tied to the unit, not the renter.

The first reason is a standard economic argument often made against rent control. The supply of market-rate units lowers, thereby increasing demand and inflating the price. Milrad points out that this is compounded by the fact that many owners of rent-controlled units convert their units to non-rental units thereby evading the profit reduction of rent control.

The second argument he makes is that, in accordance with existing law that restricts rent control, the economic protections focus on the unit and not the renter.

“The problem with rent control is [that] it’s tied to the rental unit. In a highly mobile society, especially with young people like myself who move around frequently for new job opportunities or school, it just doesn’t make sense.”

This argument rings as particularly tone deaf to Jordan Wynne, a community organizer with Housing Long Beach, which the group behind the current rent control initiative.

“[When he uses] this metaphor [of young mobile renters] he’s speaking about, not only himself, but about gentrifiers in general. He’s talking about the people who are young, educated, typically white, who move into neighborhoods that have predominantly working class and people of color [as residents] and displace them. He’s saying we have to be accomodating to those [new tenants].”

Wynne points out that their rent control ordinance does in fact have renter-tied protections in the form of just-cause eviction. This part of the proposed law lays out specific reasons for a landlord to evict their tenant thereby protecting them from being evicted for purely economic reasons.

If instituted “a tenant cannot be evicted without a valid reason,” Wynne explains. “We are literally working with buildings right now who are facing mass evictions, that’s 10 and 20 families getting evicted at a single time.”

Wynne says that he is unsurprised by Milrad’s lack of awareness of the needs of low-income renters in the district. He believes that Milrad’s connections to the community are lacking and that he’s simply mastered the optics of a community-oriented progressive.

Kevin Shin, a candidate for the seat who failed to make it into the run-off, and Roberto Uranga both made overtures to Housing Long Beach but they received no similar outreach from Milrad, Wynne said. Along with being a community activist, Wynne is a resident of District 7 and says that he has never seen Milrad at an event that was not directly related to the election.

“He’s flaunting a lot of the qualities of being a progressive, of being someone who is a voice forward for change,” Wynne critiques. “But when it gets down to it he’s not actually on the ground, he’s not talking to the people who are doing this progressive work.”

Wynne’s take on Uranga is a leveled one. He appreciates the support the councilmember has given to their initiative (even attending an event and signing the petition), but is also troubled by his opposition to the policy itself. He believes that while Uranga does have connections with the community and personally recognizes the significance of the rent control movement, he is also likely beholden to real estate interests with deep pockets and a vehement opposition to rent control. He views this election as a continued push to get more action from the council on renter protections.

“I have consistently met with both Housing Advocates and Apartment Association members to address this and other issues” says Uranga. “While we couldn’t find [a] consensus, I support the signature gathering initiative led by the housing advocate groups”

And even with his reservations, Wynne said he’ll vote for Uranga.

“Just because I vote for him doesn’t mean I won’t be in his office the very next day saying ‘We need renter protections in Long Beach.’”

Campaign Finance

Through May 19, Uranga’s campaign raised $155,081 and spent $131,261. This excludes independent expenditures from Political Action Committees (PACs) and officeholder account funds.

In that same period, Milrad’s campaign raised $43,446 and spent $70,920, accruing over $26,000 in debt. He did not benefit from any independent expenditures from PACs.

Unions have been Roberto Uranga’s biggest bankrollers. The AFL-CIO dropped over $150,000 in independent expenditures on their door-to-door field program in support of Uranga. The Long Beach Firefighters PAC, Local 372 also threw down just over $7,000 to send out mailers in the district in favor of Uranga.

Though Milrad has accused Uranga of being in the pocket of oil companies, the amount he received from the energy sector, $13,849, is the sixth most before other special interests such as real estate; communications, consulting, and media; and labor.

Roberto Uranga Campaign Contributions by Industry 2017-2018

Milrad received a plurality of his contributions, $12,025, from the 90807 zip code, which includes the affluent Los Cerritos and Bixby Knolls neighborhoods, of which only a sliver resides in District 7. For comparison he received 11 contributions totaling only $1,350 from 90806 and 90810 combined. Those include the West Side, Poly, and Wrigley neighborhoods.

Milrad also pulled $7,500 from donors in Beverly Hills.

The West Side—one of the most poverty stricken areas in Long Beach—didn’t contribute much to Uranga either with only two donations accounting for $1,000 coming from the 90810. Though the difference between contributions from 90806 ($15,600) and 90807 ($10,800) were not as one-sided as with Milrad.

The “Other” category makes up the largest portion of Milrad’s contributors, with most reporting to be either retired or not employed. He also received significant contributions from the real estate sector, including $3,200 from donors connected to Phoenix-based Ensemble Investments.

These numbers do not reflect unitemized donations under $100.

Jared Milrad Campaign Finance Contributions by Industry 2017-2018

Voting Information:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5th. District 7 includes the neighborhoods of Bixby Knolls, Bixby Terrace, California Heights, Memorial Heights, the Westside, and Wrigley. You can find your polling location here.

Trying to Turn the Blue Wave a Little Green; A Talk in the Park with Kenneth Mejia, Candidate for CA Congressional District 34

Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 3, 2018

This past Monday, Lincoln Park was alive with people. It was memorial day and families and friends gathered to enjoy a warm day in the park. The sounds of kids playing and the smells of meat grilling were ubiquitous. Under some trees and a canopy along Valley Blvd though, a different sort of socializing was going on.

Vegan enchiladas were being served and hacky sack was being played. But along with the normal small talk of a day in the park, serious political discussion was underway on everything from housing reform to drug legalization to healthcare. This is a candidate meet and greet, green party style.

The candidate is Kenneth Mejia. While usually donning a sharp suit (sometimes with a green bow tie) for interviews and appearances, today Mejia is dressed casual: sunglasses, shorts, and a green baseball cap that reads “Mark America Think Again”.

He’s been getting attention on Left media, such as an interview endorsing him on the Huffington Post and interviews with The Young Turks and Jimmy Dore. Cenk Uygur, drawing a pun from Mejia’s previous employer Ernst & Young, called him “Earnest and Young”. The description fits.

If elected, Mejia will be 27 when he enters office. He says that he was inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign to leave a six-figure job in financial services to get into politics and fight for social justice issues.

“[The green party] is essentially the most progressive party, [taking stances] that Bernie was fighting for X100,” says Mejia.

“Single-payer healthcare. Tuition free college. Cancelling student debt. 100% clean and renewable energy.”

Mejia, along with Libertarian Angela McArdle, is running against incumbent Jimmy Gomez. Gomez first got the seat after then congressman Xavier Becerra stepped down to replace Kamala Harris who left the post when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Gomez then won out a crowded field in a special election that included Mejia who was, at that point, running as a write-in Democrat.

If Gomez is unable to garner at least 51% of the vote then the top two vote earners will go into a run-off election in November.

Mejia is positive about his chances and excited to be talking about ideas that many established Democrats are not. The district is solidly blue, with only about 9% of the district registering Republican, according to the most recent data provided by the California Secretary of State. This is still significantly higher than Green registration which was around .6%. The last time a Republican was elected in this district was 1980. How does Mejia go about introducing the Green Party to stalwart Democrats?

“I think it’s a matter of people knowing that there are options. A lot of people [in this district] are working class people. 1 out of 4 people live in poverty in this district. They don’t know about 3rd parties. Democrats good. Republicans bad. We’re gonna keep hitting [Democrats] on the issues.”

While most of his messaging is positive, Mejia does point out that Gomez has some unsavory bedfellows, such as pharmaceutical companies, in the way of campaign contributions.

Mejia doesn’t think that Jimmy Gomez is a bad guy, and he votes the right way for the most part. But he questions whether the interests of his constituents will trump his financial backers, especially when it comes to controversial issues like single-payer healthcare. Mejia often notes that almost all his donations come from small donors.

He doesn’t have an exact plan for how single-payer (which would eliminate all insurance companies) would be implemented but he supports any measure (such as California’s SB 562) which would push it closer to reality. He does have a clear answer for why it failed though.

“If you think about it, we’re supposed to be leading the way. We have a blue everything. Why didn’t we pass [SB 562]?” questions Mejia.

“The reason why is because health insurance companies and big pharma have a stranglehold on government.”  

Men and women of all ethnicities and varying backgrounds, college educated and not, make up Mejia’s grassroots team.

Ana Antuna is a 19 year old student activist and resident of Los Angeles. She saw Mejia speak at a pro-DACA rally in October of 2017. After signing receiving a voicemail from Mejia himself, she began volunteering in February of this year.

“I thought wow this guy is really committed,” remembers Ana. “I never had a candidate personally call my phone number and invite me to one of their meetings.”

“Green candidates run grassroots campaigns and accept no corporate money.”

She cites immigration reform and rent control as her most important political causes.

Nathan Duran is also a student volunteer. He canvases in City Terrace and has found support for Mejia’s message in all age groups, but especially young people. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter and became disillusioned with the Democrat Party after the 2016 primary. He cites affordable housing and healthcare as two of his most important issues.

Mateo Nagassi is a homeless advocate and citizen journalist. He became politically active for the first time after the 2016 election. He cites mass incarceration as one of his primary causes, having two brothers that are in prison. His activism has bled into all facets of his life. He works in television and is now focused on generating socially aware content.

“Now, I guess you could say, I’ve become woke.”

While only having lived in the district for 4 years, Mejia says he began working in District 34 back in 2010. He is a member of the L.A. Tenants Union and a board member of the Wilshire — Neighborhood Council. While the power of neighborhood councils is largely representational (“a liaison between the community and the city”), Mejia touts their endorsement of the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. Costa-Hawkins is a state law that limits local governments’ ability to institute rent control. He believes rent control is necessary to protect low-income families from being displaced by dramatic rent increases. Along with Rent Control, Mejia supports large investments in new public housing.

Voting Information:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5th. Congressional District 34 includes the following neighborhoods: Boyle Heights, Chinatown, City Terrace, Cypress Park, Downtown Los Angeles, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Koreatown, Little Bangladesh, Little Tokyo, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mount Washington, and Westlake. You can find your polling place at VotersChoice.sos.ca.gov.

 

Day 41 – Kaleb Havens

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March 27, 2018 – Skid Row – Kaleb Havens, sits in a lawn chair, five days shy from the end of his 46 day hunger strike. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / May 2, 2018

Near the corner of 5th and Central on Skid Row’s eastern border, a sanitation worker asks Kaleb Havens if he’s accomplished what he set out to.

“The first steps of accomplishing something. Communication. Lines opening up.”

Kaleb Havens works at the Hippie Kitchen, a soup kitchen run by the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, down the street and was on Day 41 of a 46 day hunger strike. The strike was done to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles and to put pressure on the City to provide more permanent supportive housing.

Communication is something Kaleb excels at. Even after days of minimal calories, consisting of chicken broth and pedialyte, he attacks subjects earnestly, and with passion. He’s a man on a mission.  

“Through inaction, we let unregulated capitalism create these conditions. And I’m not one of these people who says we need to get rid of capitalism. I will just say it’s worked a lot better before than this. Like in the 50s and 60s when we had great social programs and a safety net and college was immensely more affordable and job training was a lot more accessible.”

Read our first discussion with Kaleb here.

Kaleb Havens on Christianity as a source for Social justice:

“I think it can be. I think it should be. I think when the Roman Empire [co-opted Christianity] and made it its own, that was more to Rome’s benefit than the mission of Christ. I think that the message of Christ has gotten watered down a lot over the years. I think at its core, it’s very much about social justice. And about standing up for people that don’t have a voice, for neighbors that go without.”

Kaleb Havens on the experience of being homeless:

[In dialogue with the reporter]

“How much your phone charged right now? Percentage wise? 88%? You charged it this morning right? You’re going to charge it tonight? What if that, in itself, was a homeric journey, to find a place where you can sit and keep your phone charged, without being hassled or told to leave.”

“When was the last time you used the bathroom? An hour ago? At your place, at the office? At your place? What if that was its own journey everyday? It’s own new problem. ‘Ok so today, where am I gonna s**t where I won’t get arrested?’ And that becomes its own project. That’s your whole morning. Just figuring out where you can use the bathroom. Or your whole evening, cause there’s only about 6 restrooms, 9 or 6 public restrooms overnight between 5,000 people who live on the streets.”

“How many gallons of possessions would you guess you own? Everybody down here limits it to 60 gallons of possessions. There’s a reason. Because if you have more than that, anything in excess of that, technically, can be thrown away at any time on the streets. Cause they can come by and do a sweep and say you have to much s**t here and you have to pick 60 gallons and we’re gonna throw away everything else. Nobody owns more than they can move by themselves every 2 weeks because of street sweeps, cause you can’t ask for help cause everyone else is moving their shit on your block.”

“I have the umbrella, not so much for the sun. I do use it for the sun, sometimes. What I use it for most is at night, when these blue lights are buzzing. Bzzz. At night.”

“You can look at a lot of studies that show blue light is the worst thing to submit someone to, especially if they’re suffering from substance abuse or a mental illness. It’s not peaceful. It’s not natural. Bzzz. I do the umbrella, just so I don’t have to look at it. That’s why a lot of people get under their tents, people who stay out here cover their face or put their hood up, cause even at night, you can’t, it’s not peaceful. There’s no rest.”

“My skin ages. I just cleaned my nails, and an hour later I look like a coal miner cause of all the debris that’s coming off the street.”     

“Your life expectancy is 75 in this country as a normal adult. It’s about 48 if you’re experiencing chronic homelessness.”

City Hall

While on his Hunger Strike, Kaleb was contacted by the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is currently being talked about as a potential candidate for president in 2020. Garcetti recently announced in his State of the City address that districts in Los Angeles that open themselves to emergency homeless shelters will get the benefit of sanitation teams dedicated to cleaning up areas where encampments were once located.

“Homelessness can’t be swept away — we must give people a place to stay,” said Garcetti. “We’re not going to wash down sidewalks only to see an encampment return a few days later. That doesn’t help a single person get off the street and it doesn’t help clean up a neighborhood for good.”

Operation Healthy Streets is a cleanup program in Skid Row, first started in 2012. City officials notify homeless residents of the date of cleanup and, with the L.A.P.D. in tow, evict those who do not leave by that date.

Kaleb was himself in danger of being forced to move for a scheduled sweep, something he was unwilling to do.

“People are sometimes arrested, or have their things thrown away, when they fail to move for the operation healthy street sweeps. So when they told me I’d have to move, that was something on the table, but they just swept around me all three times. They didn’t end up arresting me. We had a big protest the first time. The sargent told me by order of the Mayor they were told to just sweep around me and do an optional cleaning on the street, so it didn’t end up going that way.  I think that’s good. I think that means our leaders are listening to what the most vocal members of our community are saying our needs are. But there is a lot of space between listening and hearing and taking action. So we’re working on that journey.”

Along with making sure the strike was uninterrupted by the sweeps, Garcetti contacted Kaleb personally. The mayor shared that he himself had participated in a hunger strike in the past and that he was committed to improving the lot of Los Angeles’s homeless population.

While Kaleb appreciated the outreach by Garcetti, he seemed unconvinced that the mayor was willing to put his full weight behind eradicating homelessness.

“His job is to seem receptive.”

Kaleb on Misconceptions of Homelessness and Skid Row:

Fears of violence and theft in Skid Row are largely unfounded according to Havens.

“I walk down the street here a lot. I’ve never been shot. I’m not saying there’s not gun violence down here, everyone i know down here’s who’s died from violence was engaged in the drug trade. And i’m not casting blame. I’m just saying if you’re trying to help down here, and you didn’t snatch somebody’s stash like last week, i wouldn’t be worried about getting shot.”

“I’ve been out here for 41 days, everything I own is in full view of everybody and not a single possession has walked off.”

And the people living in Skid Row are not so foreign as many might perceive them to be.

“No matter how much difference you think might exist between you and someone who is experiencing homelessness, you are one bad day away from being that person in a tent who you cross the street to avoid.”

April 10th Long Beach Municipal Election: Andrew Carroll and Kevin Flores Discuss Investigation into Long Beach Campaign Finance

Joe Brizzolara / April 24th, 2018

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Long Beach, California has been known affectionately by locals as a ‘sunny place for shady people’. Kevin Flores and Andrew Carroll want you to know about the shady money driving Long Beach politics.

Their recent piece for Forthe, an art-media collective based in Long Beach that produces watchdog journalism, examined campaign contributions in the most recent Long Beach municipal election, held on April 10th. They found that Mayor Robert Garcia’s largest contributions came from real estate developers, casting suspicion on his stance opposing the rent control movement currently underway in the city. They also found out how donors were able to skirt Long Beach’s restriction on campaign contributions over $400.

Along with the two’s analysis, this episode features an overview of the election results, discussion of the controversial Land Use Element, and the role of independent, multicultural journalism in Long Beach.  

‘Sanctuary State’ Lawsuit; ACLU sues Los Alamitos after City Council votes to formally implement its anti-‘Sanctuary State’ ordinance

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Crowds arrived hours before the meeting. Outside, bullhorns and chanting can be heard blocks away. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 23, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, along with other groups, is suing the city of Los Alamitos for an ordinance which exempts the city from SB 54, the so-called “Sanctuary State” Law.

The law prohibits state and local officials from assisting federal agents to enforce immigration law, unless compelled to do so by court order.

Several other cities and the county have decided to support Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s lawsuit against the state, arguing that SB 54 and two other laws aimed at opposing Trump’s immigration policy are unconstitutional. Sessions is arguing that these laws are a violation of the supremacy clause, which grants the federal government precedence over state law. While other municipalities either joined the lawsuits or sent supporting documents, Los Alamitos is the only one to pass an ordinance that directly contradicts the state law.

“The United States Constitution takes exception with the California Values Act, and that is what I proposed to my colleagues,” says the ordinance’s sponsor, Councilmember Warren Kusumoto.

“I can’t think of a better, more forceful way to say we’re on record [opposing SB 54] than to add an ordinance to our municipal code.”

In a statement to the press, Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California said, “ The City Council cannot appoint itself judge and jury and decide which state laws it will and will not follow… That is clearly unlawful.”

Reverend Samuel Pullen of the Community Congregational United Church is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and said, “Los Alamitos’s illegal ordinance causes serious harm to my ability to serve my congregation… Immigrant worshippers are less likely to come and participate in church services because of their fear that Los Alamitos and its law enforcement officials are helping deport members of our community.”

They held a press conference at the Los Alamitos City Hall on Wednesday where they presented the lawsuit to the City Clerk. The lawsuit claims that the ordinance is unlawful, squanders city funds, and “threatens residents’ safety and well-being.”

Two days before, the City Council voted 4-1 to officially implement the ordinance which they passed last month.

The scene was raucous, with protesters on both sides loudly expressing their beliefs on the grounds of the Civic Center and in public comment which went on for around 4 1/2 hours.

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – A Somalian man waves Trump campaign and U.S. flags high. He says he and his family came to this country legally. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

The night of… inside

After genial city business, like presenting an award to a Los Alamitos police officer for drunk driving enforcement, the council voted to drop many of the agenda items for the evening and commence on the issue that drew the large crowd that evening.

Barbara Farrell of Los Alamitos said “SB 54 is the law of our state. As a citizen of Los Alamitos, I demand that you uphold that law. Vote no, do not tear our families and communities apart. We are a diverse community, and we love our diversity. We love our immigrant neighbors.”

“The reason for the ordinance was ostensible to be concerned about conflict between state law and federal law,” said Joel Block, a resident of neighboring Rossmoor, labor attorney and a former State Assembly candidate.

“That conflict is being resolved in the lawsuit by Attorney General Sessions against the state of California that ultimately will probably go to the highest court if they accept it to make a final determination on that issue. Adding another ordinance is gonna create another lawsuit which is gonna create the possibility that you could get two different decisions.”

“You’re taking over the judicial function of determining whether the state law is legal or not. City councils cannot take over that judicial function of nullifying state law (I want that to sink in). You can end up having Sessions win the case against California and you could still lose this lawsuit.”

Gerri Mejia, former mayor of Los Alamitos, voiced her support for the ordinance and advised fellow supporters to “put their money where their mouth is.”

“There’s a “GoFundMe” page that will help people who support what you’re doing tonight, and what you did at the last council meeting, to be able to give funds… They can give to that cause and they can make sure that this city, the first city, the smallest city, took a stand and said we need to make sure that we secure our residents.”

Mayor Troy Edgar created the “GoFundMe” to pay for legal costs for the predicted challenge of the ordinance.

At the time of publication, the page had raised over $20,000 of its $100,000 goal.

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – A Somalian man waves Trump campaign and U.S. flags high. He says he and his family came to this country legally. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Antoinette Joselyn West, a resident of Los Alamitos, supports the decision: “I support you. I’m a resident of Los Alamitos for 31 years and I believe you’re doing the right thing.”

Betty Robinson, a 60-year resident of Orange County, argued: “Supporters of illegal aliens say that there are 800 crimes listed in SB 54 that allow for I.C.E. to be notified. The California State Sheriffs Association opposes SB 54 and lists examples of crimes committed by illegal aliens for which I.C.E. would not be called such as: serial thieves, assaults to police officers, chronic drug users, known criminal gang members, and repeat drunk drivers.”

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has publicly come out against SB 54, going so far as to publicly post inmate release dates on their website, giving I.C.E. an indirect notification of undocumented immigrant releases.

Councilmember Mark Chirco was the lone vote against the ordinance.

After asking the city attorney how much money had already been spent on the ordinance—thousands—Chirco learned from Los Alamitos Chief Eric Nunez that SB 54 has had little to no effect on Los Alamitos policing. He then went on to deliver an impassioned speech against the ordinance.

Chirco, the only lawyer on the city council, argued that the council did not have the legal authority to determine whether or not SB 54 is unconstitutional.

“I’m not saying whether there is or is not a conflict [between SB 54 and the U.S. Constitution]. I know who will say that—a federal judge.”

“The constitution says it is the judicial branch that settles disputes of law and interprets the constitution.”

“Since there has been no finding that SB 54 is unconstitutional, I do not believe that this city council has the legal authority to declare it unconstitutional.”

He argued that, along with being highly divisive, the ordinance has wasted Los Alamitos’s precious money and resources.

“Tonight, we’ve got a couple of agenda items that we’re not going to address. They were on the agenda last month, we’re not addressing those as well. That’s our actual city business.”

“Defending this flawed ordinance, could and would literally bankrupt our city. How then do we pay for our wonderful police department? Pay for our community events? Pay for our excellent city staff? We don’t. Do we increase taxes? I don’t want to do that.”

“I don’t think government by “GoFundMe” is responsible government” Chirco quipped.

Councilmember Richard Murphy argued that while he supports the idea of the ordinance—“it’s easy to vote against a bill [SB 54] that protects illegal alien criminals”—there should be more time to review its legality.

He proposed to table the ordinance, allowing for city staff to come back with more options. His motion was not seconded and died.

“I urge the council to slow down and get it right.”

Murphy ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance.

Councilmember Warren Kusumoto, the ordinance’s sponsor, chose to not offer comment.

Mayor Edgar dropped a Navy adage while delivering his enthusiastic support for implementing the ordinance: “You can’t keep polishing the cannonball, you gotta shoot it.”

He spoke proudly of the trend that Los Alamitos started and refuted those who criticized the “circus” that was occurring at city council meetings such as this one.

“Don’t be afraid of democracy. That’s what this is right?”

 

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Demonstrators opposing the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ ordinance. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

…Outside…

Outside the council chambers, a chaotic mix of protesters on both sides made loud declarations of their beliefs.

“Hey hey, ho ho, all illegals got to go” went one chant.

“Up up with liberation, down, down with deportation” went another.

Shouting matches erupted throughout. A few physical altercations took place between the opposing protesters, but they were quickly stamped out by Los Alamitos police officers who were monitoring the situation closely.

Along with Los Alamitos P.D., members of the National Lawyers Guild were there observing. One volunteer explained that they often observe protests in the hopes of deescalating any possible altercations and to document any conflicts that might arise with law enforcement.

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Protesters attempt to silence one another. Los Alamitos P.D. stand nearby, intervening only for physical altercations. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

“There’s been quite a bit of shouting back and forth, people having arguments with each other, but other than that there are people on both sides expressing their opinions very forcefully.”

At moments, grounds around city hall felt like a music festival, with drums beating and a keyboardist playing Mexican music, encouraging people to dance.

Erik Garcia, a member of Decolonize O.C., says of the other side: “They’re pushing a political agenda that endorses hate.”

Matthew Hom, of Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish organization: “We don’t support instilling fear in our communities and [the City Council] using their power to make a divisive situation.”

Mike McCoy, who was holding a sign reading ‘Build A Wall, Deport Them All’: “The state of California doesn’t have any jurisdiction over immigration law.”

“26,000 [U.S. Citizens have been killed by undocumented immigrants] since 9/11. That’s more than Vietnam.”

Los Alamitos protests break during votes on SB54

April 16, 2018 – Los Alamitos – Mike McCoy, supporter of Los Alamitos’s ordinance exempting itself from California’s ‘Sanctuary State’ law, sits outside of City Hall. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Killings by undocumented immigrants was a popular argument amongst protesters supporting the ordinance.

Marina Lynn held a sign that read “Kate Stiehle Robert Morton Had Dreams No Sanctuary City.”

“These two victims were killed by illegal aliens,” Lynn explained.

While there is no concrete data on the rate of killings committed by those in the United States illegally, several studies have found that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than people born in the U.S.

“You break the law you go to jail,” one anti-illegal immigration protester announces while a Los Alamitos police officer looks on.

Jake is a Los Alamitos resident and was waving a flag along Katella Boulevard with a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and shirt. He said that most of the people in his community support the city council’s decision.

Andre Soriano, a fashion designer, legally immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. He believes it unfair for undocumented immigrants to not have to go through the rigorous citizenship process like he did: “We came here legally, we believe in the constitution of the united states of America, and it’s not for free… [Immigrants] have to work for it. They have to be legal.”

 

‘The rent is too damn high!’; SoCal Rent Control Coalition Holds Press Conference In Downtown Los Angeles

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 16, 2018 

Coalition of groups pushing for regional rent control gather at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

April 12, 2018, April 12, 2018, a regional coalition of groups pushing for rent control in their cities gather at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky | The Sprawl

The steps outside of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Grand Park were alive with chants for rent control this past Thursday. A coalition of affordable housing groups from across the Greater L.A. area held a press conference to a scattering of press and onlookers. Organizers held signs with slogans including “No Nos Vamos A Dejar” (‘we are not going to leave’) and “Make Housing Affordable!”, while standing behind moving boxes.

Most of these groups are currently gathering signatures to put rent control initiatives on their cities’ ballots in November.

Allison Henry of the Pasadena Tenants Union announced that their charter amendment had just received an endorsement from the Pasadena Unified School District, Board of Education. Two Board members are actually collecting signatures themselves, Henry added.

“They’re concerned about declining student enrollment and personnel in the district who are getting their own rents increased, outpacing what the district is able to pay them,” said Henry.

The conference featured both Spanish and English speakers. Each speaker was followed by a translator who summarized their statement.

Mike Van Gorder, Captain with the Glendale Tenants Union, shared stories of Glendale residents who have suffered dramatic rent increases, including two who were forced to move out of the city. His organization is seeking an ordinance in Glendale that will cap rent increases at 4% a year.

“I’m not here to talk about my own massive misfortunes because in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been very lucky,” said Van Groder. “But should we have to rely on luck for a [sic] living situation? No.”

Van Gorder listed other reforms he’d like to see in place: “Repeal Costa-Hawkins, get rid of the Ellis Act, we need income reflective housing for the working class, we need vacancy taxes, we need a public bank to fund public land trusts and public housing.”

“But first things first,” said Van Gorder, “We need meaningful rent stabilization.”

Jordan Wynne, of Housing Long Beach, ended his statement with a chant for “Rent Control Now!” If passed, their ordinance would cap rent increases at 100% of the C.P.I., a index used by government to determine inflation.

Promise Lee, an organizer with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, called for an expansion of rent control in the City of Los Angeles.

Lee described the situation in a non-rent controlled building: “There are folks that have already been forced out because they can’t pay these rent increases. And across the hall there are these young hip white folks who are moving in and partying in those flats while the remaining low-income residents are working and fighting and organizing to stay.”

Roughly 43.6% of housing units in the City of Los Angeles are rent controlled, according to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Housing and Community Investment Department of the City of Los Angeles.

Many Affordable housing advocates want to expand rent control by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law which prohibits certain units from being rent-controlled. Signature gathering is currently underway for a statewide proposition to do just that in November.

Alberto Andrata of Pomona, Apolonio Cortez of Santa Ana, and Maria Gustos of Unincorporated East L.A. all delivered their statements in Spanish. Like their English-speaking counterparts, they spoke of predatory landlords and wages unable to keep pace with rising housing costs.

Woodrow Curry of Uplift Inglewood, also pushing for a rent control charter amendment, delivered a call to action: “Join a local campaign if there is a local campaign in your area. If there is not a local campaign in your area, do like many of us have done and start one.”

Repeal of Cost-Hawkins and rent control initiatives are being strongly opposed by Apartment Associations in the state which represent real estate developers and landlords. The largest among them, the California Apartment Association, successfully lobbied against a repeal of Costa-Hawkins in the state assembly earlier this year. In 2017, their political action committee reported total contributions of a little over $1.5 million.

 

A Contentious Place To Live: Fountain Valley City Council Votes in Favor of Amicus Brief Supporting Federal Government’s Lawsuit Against ‘Sanctuary State’ Laws

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 6, 2018

city hall

Los Alamitos City Hall. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

On Tuesday night the Fountain Valley City Council voted 3-2 in favor of sending an amicus brief supporting Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Lawsuit against the State of California for the California Values Act, the so called “Sanctuary State” law.

The California Values Act (SB 54) prohibits state and local officials from assisting federal agents enforce immigration law.

Fountain Valley is one of the latest cities to join in Orange County’s backlash against the state government for its immigration policies aimed at directly opposing the Trump Administration.

Across the county Tuesday night, San Juan Capistrano’s City Council voted in favor of a symbolic resolution condemning SB 54 while nearby Fullerton voted against taking action. Conversely, Santa Ana voted to send an amicus brief supporting the State in the lawsuit.

The night before Huntington Beach, swarming with protesters, voted to file its own lawsuit against the state while the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted last week to join the Justice Department’s lawsuit. And on Wednesday night, Aliso Viejo voted to also send an amicus brief opposing the state.

“An amicus brief is essentially a ‘friend of the court’ brief. It is a legal position for the court without actually getting involved in the lawsuit,” explained Fountain Valley City Attorney Colin Burns.

The recent trend began in early March with the City of Los Alamitos. They passed an ordinance that directly exempts itself from SB 54.

Along with the California Values Act, the federal lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of two other Californian laws. The Workplace Raid Law (AB 450) restricts employers from turning over employee records to I.C.E. without a subpoena. The Detention Review Law (AB 103) requires that the California Attorney General review any detention center that holds undocumented immigrants who are awaiting deportation or immigration court.

Councilmember Larry Crandall proposed the legal action and believes that ‘Sanctuary State’ laws are unconstitutional. He took action after receiving feedback from Fountain Valley residents about their frustrations with Sacramento.

“Now that I was on council, and had an opportunity to do something about it, I did it.”

Crandall, commenting on the state legislature’s Democratic supermajority: “They hate our President, and they will do whatever they can to hurt him.”  

Signs carried by those opposing the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ measures read: “F(ountain) V(alley) A Nice Place for Everyone” playing on the city’s official nickname “A Nice Place to Live”. Another reads: “I’m Local I support SB 54.”

Supporters of the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ measures carried American flags and a few wore ‘Make America Great Again’ caps and shirts. One women’s shirt reads “ARREST Gov. Brown [State Senator and author of SB 54 Kevin] De Leon [State Attorney General Xavier] Becerra.”

Longtime Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was in attendance, pledging his support for action against the state.

“I am here to encourage you to join with other cities in the amicus brief in opposing what is an outrageous policy that is being forced on local governments by establishing a policy that will bring criminals into California, and into our areas where we have given sanctuary to criminals.”  

“Don’t try to get around what your real position on the matter is by saying you can’t do it because of the money. Because I will help you raise that money, or I’ll give it to you out of my personal campaign treasury,” said Rohrabacher, offering to pay for the legal expenses of an amicus brief.

Rohrabacher’s comments were met by roaring applause from his supporters but also led one detractor to verbally confront him as he exited the meeting. Fountain Valley Police escorted the congressman to a neighboring police station.

Councilmember Crandall says he was in contact with Rohrabacher’s staff leading up to the meeting.

“I thought I’d kinda talked them out of coming because it’s a Fountain Valley issue,” says Crandall. “I didn’t want it to become [the] real dog and pony show that it ended up being. But he has a right to come.”

Concerning the offer of funding for a legal challenge: “The council has a budget and we’re gonna see to taking care of this on our own. We don’t want to get involved in political campaigns.”

One man wearing a shirt reading “Make California Great Again” tells someone on the phone jokingly: “I’ll probably get arrested for what I have to say.” Another in a MAGA hat remarks in earnest about politics: “It’s all theater.”

The crowd had to be reminded several times, often to no avail, to remain quiet throughout the hours of public comment.

“We’ll vote you out!” threatens one attendant, if the proposal was voted down.

“We’ll vote you back in!” says an attendant who opposed the proposal.

“Our job at the state level is to create as safe an environment as we can for people to be successful human beings,” says Matt Taylor, Fountain Valley resident and Fullerton College professor. “I feel like putting state and local officials in charge of enforcing immigration reform really confuses the roles and creates an environment, quite frankly, that I not only [don’t] want to work in, but [also] live in.”

“Let the federal government do its a job and when it has probable cause to arrest and detain someone I think we should participate. But if the federal government doesn’t have cause to detain someone, the lack of their documented status is not sufficient reason to turn them over to the federal government.”

Fountain Valley resident Steve Dolberg, who supports legal action against SB 54: “The City of Fountain Valley obviously needs to take a stand one way or the other. It’s the only way Sacramento is going to get feedback [on whether] what they’ve done is acceptable or not.”  

“I’m not one of these people who says ‘they’re all bad, they all have to go’… [but] they have broken the law in order to get here which makes them a criminal… they are not citizens of the United States, they are not entitled to constitutional protections.”

“All [the options involving legal action] have significant costs associated with them,” warns City Attorney Burns. “By passing an ordinance, you do open yourself up to a challenge by the state Attorney General, possibly by other private groups… the intervention into the federal action requires a substantial amount of attorney time, you essentially become a party to that lawsuit.”   

Councilmember Crandall believes that the amicus brief option was the most cost efficient while still taking an active position.

“Filing an amicus brief is not going to expose us to lawsuits.”

Along with Fountain Valley, Yorba Linda and Mission Viejo (which also passed a symbolic resolution supporting Los Alamitos’s ordinance) have submitted amicus briefs.

“What I found very disconcerting is that the state would impose, unilaterally, on cities the status of sanctuary state/city. Without any input from us. We didn’t get a chance to vote, we didn’t have dialogue, it was just imposed. I think that’s fundamentally wrong” says Yorba Linda Mayor Gene Hernandez.

While agreeing with Los Alamitos’s position, Hernandez felt that it would have been the wrong tactic for Yorba Linda.

“Los Alamitos will get sued. They will have to fight the lawsuit. My thinking is, the Feds are already suing the state, let’s support the Feds. They foot the cost of the lawsuit where it’s going to end up anyway. This will go before the Supreme Court to make a ruling on, a couple years down the road I would imagine. That’s the reality of it. So just to do the symbolism of [passing a municipal ordinance] we get the same effect by writing this brief and saying ‘we do not support being a sanctuary city, and here’s the reasons why.’”

Mayor Michael Vo abstained from casting a vote on the amicus brief. He preambled his vote by mentioning Jim Kanno, Fountain Valley’s first mayor and possibly the first ever Japanese-American to be mayor of a U.S. city. He talked about Kano’s history of being held in a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II, an oblique reference to an instance when the federal government’s authority was used to persecute a minority group.  

“His only crime was having Japanese parents,” said Mayor Vo. “Fountain valley is better to not take a stand on this issue.”

“This isn’t about legal or illegal immigration,” argues Councilmember Crandall. “This isn’t about the color of someone’s skin, the language they speak. It’s [about] the rule of law. And the supremacy clause says that federal law supersedes state law”

“I can hang my hat on the rack and go to sleep at night knowing we did the right thing for the right reason”

Los Alamitos: ‘the little cottonwoods’ makes a big statement

From the Los Alamitos Ordiance’s background provided in the City Council agenda: “The California Values Act (SB54) is contrary to the United States Constitution and infringes on the rights of the citizens of the City of Los Alamitos… In view of this contradiction, it is impossible to comply with both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California. When two governing documents contradict each other, the order of precedence needs to be invoked and followed.”

“It was a very simple theory I had. If the state was arguing that they could be exempt from certain federal laws, then I wanted to pose to my colleagues, why couldn’t we be exempt from certain state laws?” says Mayor Pro Tem Warren Kusumoto who proposed the Los Alamitos Resolution.

Like Fountain Valley’s April 3rd Meeting, the normally muted Los Alamitos City Hall was overflowing with protesters on both sides of the aisle cheering and jeering for hours.

The ordinance was passed on March 19th, shortly after the federal lawsuit was filed on March 7th. Kusumoto claims the timing was unplanned.

Kusumoto says that one of their reasons for passing the ordinance was to make sure that companies contracted by the federal government could comply with E-Verify requirements without fear of being targeted by the state. E-Verify is an electronic database that certifies an individual’s legal status.

“If they obey California law, they might lose their federal contract,” says Kusumoto. “I thought, this is not right, and we ought to put something in place that would at least offer them that protection.”

Niels W. Frenzen, Director of USC’s Immigration Clinic, refutes this concern: “The California Values Act, SB 54, does not have any impact whatsoever on E-Verify”

Frenzen believes that Kusumoto might have been referring to AB 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act.

Frenzen points to a specific exemption for E-Verify written into AB 450: “In accordance with state and federal law, nothing in this chapter shall be interpreted, construed, or applied to restrict or limit an employer’s compliance with a memorandum of understanding governing the use of the federal E-Verify system.”

Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School, believes the Los Alamitos ordinance is illegal.

“There is discretion for localities to make laws that differ from state laws,” Levinson explains, “but not laws that specifically say, we will not abide by state law.”

“When there’s a direct conflict, the state will win.”

Councilmember Kusumoto acknowledges that he was not entirely sure of the ordinance’s impact when he proposed and voted for it.

“10 days after [the ordinance is implemented] they’re gonna sue us. For what? I don’t know. So we’ll see”

On April 16th, the Los Alamitos City Council will reconvene and vote to officially implement the ordinance now that it has been passed.  

Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, voiced their opposition in a statement: “City council members claim they want to uphold the U.S. Constitution, but their vote does the exact opposite. The state of California has every right under the Constitution to protect the safety and well-being of all of its residents, and ensure that its resources are not being used to enforce federal immigration laws that fuel mass deportations, separate families and spread fear through immigrant communities.”

Policy director and senior staff attorney Angela Chan of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an immigrants rights group in Orange County, echoes this opposition: “Los Alamitos is seeking to violate state law and the rights of its own immigrant residents.  If Los Alamitos passes this wrong-headed ordinance, it will be signaling to its residents that it is more interested in tearing families apart, violating due process rights, and engaging in racial profiling than in respecting and protecting its residents.”

Orange County Responds to Homelessness Pt. 1: Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem, Jose F. Moreno

Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 22, 2018

Anaheim Homeless Encampment Eviction

A homeless encampment near Angel Stadium. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

On January 22nd, Orange County officials started the eviction of a homeless encampment on the Santa Ana Riverbed. Seven days later, homeless advocates sued the County claiming the order violated the civil rights of the homeless living in the riverbed. They had no other viable housing option, advocates argued, and would be criminalized by nearby cities’ anti-camping laws. Federal District Judge David Carter responded to the lawsuit by temporarily stopping evictions of those living in the riverbed. Carter walked several miles down the encampment to get a closer look at living conditions. The judge demanded that Orange County officials find a housing solution. A deal was brokered. The county would provide 30-day motel and meals vouchers to the homeless and the riverbed would be vacated. On February 20th, 244 homeless men and women traded their camps for vouchers.

The Sprawl got a chance to speak with Dr. Jose Moreno, Mayor Pro Tem of Anaheim. Dr. Moreno is Chair of the Department of Chicano & Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach. In April of last year, Moreno requested the creation of the homeless working group.

The group was comprised of city and county officials as well as homeless advocates and non-profit service providers. Its purpose was to review the city’s policies regarding homeless and to develop framework for tackling homelessness that was both efficient and compassion to those affected. The homeless working group proposed a set of recommendations and guiding principles for dealing with homelessness which the city council ultimately approved on January 30th.

Dr. Moreno was elected to the Anaheim City Council in November 2016, the first city election done by district. Moreno was one of the plaintiffs in an ACLU suit brought against the city which successfully argued that at-large elections disenfranchised Latino voters. Up until this point, much of city’s representation was concentrated in the affluent Anaheim Hills. Along with Denise Barnes, Moreno’s victory shifted the power balance of the council creating a majority headed by Mayor Tom Tait. They represent a new opposition to generous tax subsidies offered to Anaheim’s resort industry, which includes Disneyland. Dr. Moreno is the Councilmember for District 3, which has a heavy Latino majority. In January, he was elected Mayor Pro Tem by the Council.

Dr. Moreno discusses the riverbed, obstacles to a housing-first model, and funding possibilities for low-income housing.  

 

Day 26 – Kaleb Havens

Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 22, 2018

The season of Lent is one of self-denial. It is a season of solemn observance when many Christian traditions call on followers to emulate the suffering of Christ who is purported to have spent 40 days fasting in the desert shortly before his crucifixion. Kaleb Havens, of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, decided to spend this Lent bringing awareness to homelessness in Los Angeles. He is spending 46 days on a hunger strike in Skid Row.

Kaleb has worked in Skid Row since 2013. The Los Angeles Catholic Worker provides 3,000 hot meals a week as well as free medical care and other amenities.

Kaleb is chained to a fence with three locks: one for Skid row, one for mayor Eric Garcetti, and one for Councilmember Jose Huizar whose district includes Skid Row. He says he came up with the idea of a hunger strike “about 10 days” before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Catholic season of Lent.

Los Angeles voters passed measure HHH in 2016, an initiative that authorizes $1.2 billion in bond money to fund homeless housing. But many homeless advocates in Los Angeles believe the money from HHH isn’t hitting the streets quick enough to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, L.A. County had 57,794 homeless residents in 2017. That’s up 23% from 2016.

Kaleb Havens believes part of the solution is here in Skid Row. Skid Row’s many vacant buildings, Kaleb believes, should be converted into homeless housing.

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Protesters with the Catholic Worker outside of the office of Councilmember Jose Huizar demanding more action on affordable housing. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb on a conversation he had with Huizar who came to visit him on his hunger strike:

Little policy; little of what’s possible, little of what’s not. I asked for things, he asked for things. He needs activists in the city meetings, in the committees, in the city council meetings, vocalizing promoting the solutions that are in line with our core values. For instance, the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance and the Motel Conversion Ordinance last week. Things that we’re trying to do to cut red tape, more housing options down here [in Skid Row] but it’s a long process.”

 

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Kaleb is chained to a fenced. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

The Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance is currently in committee. It expedites city approval for buildings that provide housing for the homeless and have on-site supportive services. If the building meets the requirements of the ordinance, it would not need to be approved by the City Council to begin construction. The Motel Conversion Ordinance allows for motels to be converted into permanent housing regardless of the building’s zoning. If approved by the Planning Committee, these ordinances will go before the City Council for a vote.  

 

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Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb Havens on his philosophy of property rights:

“The problem with land use is kind of embedded in our own psyche about what we believe are our own property rights. So most Americans, when you ask them, ‘well ya a developer can do with his own building whatever he wants if they bought it cause it’s their property’. And that’s true, for almost everything, to a certain point. Like if you’re a rich person sitting on a reserve, a cache of water in the middle of a drought, and you’re charging such exorbitantly high prices, or just not even selling that water, to the point where people are dying of thirst, than your property rights have violated someone else’s human rights. So there is a point where that doesn’t become true anymore… So we’re just educating people about how land use can be corrupt. For instance, just land banking and not even developing a property you buy, letting it sit empty while people die on the streets. That’s not an OK use of your personal property. Either s— or get off the pot. Either develop something that is of use to the community or let go of the asset. Cause vacant properties are taking up space that could be used to solve this crisis and they’re lowering everyone else’s property value because vacant properties are bad for cities.”

 

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Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb on civic engagement and the struggle to end homelessness:

“We can’t do anything if people don’t make noise. If people don’t vote and just stay home and make a facebook post about how bad things are then don’t do anything. If you don’t go to a City Council meeting, if you don’t go to a Planning and Use Management meeting, if you don’t go to a Homelessness and Poverty meeting, if you don’t sign a petition meeting, if you don’t vote, if you don’t write your representative, you’re not doing s—. I am trying to generate conversation for this but this is just the first few steps in a very long marathon.”

 

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During a heat wave in Los Angeles, a homeless man collapses on the downtown sidewalk. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Kaleb Havens points out that it is less expensive to provide permanent housing for homeless people than to have them live on the street.

A study commissioned by L.A. County found that formerly homeless people who were given permanent housing were hospitalized and arrested less. When accounting for the costs of permanent housing and supportive services, the county saw an average decline of 20% in spending.

‘The Welcome Party’: Trump’s First Visit to the Southland

March 13, 2018 – President Donald Trump touches down in California for the first time since becoming President. He came to inspect prototypes for the southern border wall in San Diego, address service members at Miramar Marine Base, and attend a fundraiser in Beverly Hills at the home of Edward Glazer, co-Chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

People flooded Beverly Gardens Park to protest President Trump’s arrival. The rally was more like a festival than a protest; apparel and hotdogs were sold by local vendors. A large float of Donald Trump, holding a KKK hood in his right arm, made an appearance. With the exception of a few minor altercations, the protest was a peaceful event.

 

Maywood embroiled in scandal; D.A. investigation into possible corruption dominates City Council meeting.

 

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Mayor Roman Medina looks to Gerardo Mayagoitia, City Clerk as he accuses him of corruption. “I’ve been sending the DA paperwork for awhile now,” Says Mayagoitia. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 7, 2018

The Maywood City Council chambers were heavily attended this past Wednesday, February 28th. Along with the numerous residents, the back wall was lined with Sheriff’s Deputies. There were calls for resignation and recall of Mayor Ramon Medina, along with a few rebukes from his supporters. Shouting matches erupted.

A little over 2 weeks before, on February 9th, City Hall was being searched by investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney. While residents spoke about the shame being brought to Maywood and openly accused the Mayor and other councilmembers of corruption, an activist dressed as a clown lumbered through the room from time to time, occasionally speaking out of turn. More on him later.

 

This is the city of Maywood as it is enveloped in an imbroglio involving accusations of pay to play contracts and bribery of city leadership, claims of high level nepotism, and a city government which is in debt by over $15 million—two times what its yearly spending is.

On February 9th, D.A. investigators searched the residences of Maywood Mayor Ramon Medina, former Councilmember Sergio Caldaron, 13 businesses and City Hall itself seizing boxes of documents and computers.

The LA times obtained the search warrant. In it, 4 current and former council members are listed, along with current and former city administrators, 13 companies, and local political activist Edwin T. Snell. Along with the Medina and Calderon, other officials under investigation include Vice Mayor Ricardo Villarreal, City Attorney Michael Montgomery, Building, and Planning Director David Mango, former Councilmember Thomas Martin, and Interim City Manager Reuben Martinez, who is currently on a leave of absence.

 

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An empty frame hangs on the wall that was once held the portrait of Councilmember Sergio Calderon, who resigned in January after being sued by County prosecutors for occupying two public offices at once. The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office conducted a raid at Maywood City Hall, the homes of Mayor Roman Medina and Sergio Calderon, and 13 other businesses.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

The hiring of Mr. Martinez was itself the subject of criticism as Mr. Martinez has no government experience and was found to be a personal relation of Mayor Medina.

One of the mayor’s neighbors saw the raid took place early that morning. She reports seeing members of the household brought in the front yard with their “hands up”, while investigators removed “paperwork.”

When asked about allegations of corruption, she seemed unfazed. “This city’s [been] freaking crazy since I remember.”

 

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Heather Willson, a resident of Maywood, stands up and applauses after City Council rejects the hiring of Arnaldo Beltran. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

The 2016 Audit

In 2016, the California State Auditor released a report that labeled Maywood a “High Risk” city due to substantial problems with its finances and operations. The city reported a general fund deficit for six straight years leading up to the report, which had totaled over 15 million as of June 2015. Financial statements by the city omitted critical information.

The report cites a lack of transparency in regards to hiring of administrators and awarding city contracts. The city repeatedly violated the Brown Act, which requires local legislative bodies to hold open meetings with posted agendas when deliberating on issues that dramatically affect government operations. This would include the hiring of a city manager. Between December 2015 and May 2016, State Auditors documented 6 violations of the Brown Act, 3 of which involved hiring.

At last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, chants of “Brown Act” could be heard from disgruntled residents.

On that night Michael Montgomery, City Attorney, recommended the hiring of Arnaldo Beltran as interim City Manager to replace Martinez. Councilmember Edwardo De La Riva asked Montgomery who he had conferred with on the council before making this recommendation. Montgomery stated he had spoken with one member of the council. De La Riva went on to question why they didn’t have a lengthier hiring process in which numerous candidates could be vetted. Medina took it to a vote and to the surprise of some, Medina was not able to secure a majority vote.

The council has had a track record of approving contracts that did not undergo a competitive bidding process.

According to the audit, “Maywood frequently used a noncompetitive process to contract for vital city services, and thus it has not ensured the cost‑effectiveness of those services.” Normal procedure entails a city issuing a R.F.P. (Request for Proposal) where the city specifies what is required for a potential contract. The proposal is then posted publicly or sent to multiple vendors who bid for the contract. Ideally, the most cost efficient bid is selected. Contracted services that did not undergo this process in Maywood include: law enforcement, special legal counseling, and accounting. In the case of engineering contacts, auditors found that the city’s R.F.P. lacked detail that would have allowed for vendors to submit informed bids thereby invalidating the competitive bid process.

ECM Group Engineering & Construction Management received a contract from Maywood in May of 2016. This followed the abrupt firing of Willdan Group, Inc. without any reason given. ECM did not undergo a competitive bidding process. They lobbied the council aggressively, making a legal campaign contribution of $250 to one of the councilmembers, and providing a promotional packet to the city manager that included a letter of recommendation to hire ECM written in the manager’s name for him to issue to the city council. The city manager informed the council that he had not written the letter. This contracting of ECM all occurred while they were being investigated by the city of South El Monte for overbilling the city, including logging 27-hour days for its employees. Maywood allowed ECM to begin work without even acquiring a written contract.

 

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Mayor Roman Medina stands alone next to an American flag during a presentation made by Ray Mirzabegian about commercial cannabis in the city of Maywood. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

Other reasons for the City’s poor financial condition include officer misconduct lawsuits stemming from the now defunct Maywood Police Department and wasteful spending. In 2009, a report issued by then California State Attorney General Jerry Brown found that the Maywood P.D. had regularly engaged in practices that deprived people of their constitutional rights. Along with improper staffing, city oversight, and record keeping, the report found that the culture of Maywood P.D. was one of “sexual innuendo, harassment, vulgarity, [and] discourtesy to members of the public.”

An example of wasteful spending includes the City Council issuing itself $250 a month automatically in travel expense reimbursements. State Auditors found this to be largely unnecessary for a city that only totals 1.18 sq miles. “Using the current federal reimbursement rate of 54 cents per mile,” the report reads, “We calculated that to justify the full payment for mileage, each elected official would have to drive 463 miles every month, an equivalent of a round trip between Maywood and Fresno.”

Councilmember De La Riva stopped accepting the travel reimbursement a few months after it was introduced. “We already receive a monthly stipend,” says De La Riva. “That should be enough to cover every travel that we have.”

Controversy, Clowns, Civic Participation

Despite its small size, the City of Maywood is one of the most densely populated cities in Southern California with around 30,000 residents. Maywood has the 2nd highest Latino majority in L.A. county at 96.4%. It received national attention in 2006 when it became a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants, quickly resulting in the ire of right-wing pundits and protesters. 46.1% of residents are foreign born, according to Census figures from 2016.

 

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ET Snell, a local political activist, who lists his name as “I am a Clown” during public comment. He told the Council that he was assisting Mayor Roman Medina with bringing retail marijuana to Maywood. Snell was upset about a bingo hall that was rejected. Snell is being investigated by the District Attorney.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

 

Edwin T. Snell is the clown-costumed activist referenced earlier. Initially a supporter of Medina, Snell was one of the speakers at the most recent City Council meeting calling on him to step down. Snell claims he told the mayor “I’ll be glad to help you do recalls.” Recalls in Maywood occurring from 2015 thru 2017 are currently being investigated by the D.A. Snell says that he and Medina had a falling out after plans for a bingo hall on city property fell through. A percentage of the profits were going to go to Snell’s nonprofit organization.

Mr. Snell says he has initiated some 22 recalls of politicians all over Southern California. He likes to repeats a classic adage: “Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”

Both City Clerk Gerado Mayagoitia and Councilmember Edwardo De La Riva claim to have been targeted by the Mayor in 2016 recalls because they were obstacles to his questionable management of the city.

“They knew I had already talked to the press about some of the stuff that was going on that I saw that was wrong. They knew that I questioned everything that they did,” says De La Riva.

Mayagoitia claims to have been in contact with the D.A. since early 2017, alerting them to illegal activity in City Hall. He says about him and De La Riva: “We don’t play their game. We’re not the guys that look the other way.”

Oscar Magaña is a former Mayor and City Councilmember in Maywood. He is calling for the mayor and others being investigated on the council to step down. He believes low voter turn-out in Maywood is a factor in problems with city leadership. “It’s a very low turn-out,” says Magaña. “If people participated, and if people knew what was going on, I think they would make better decisions.”

The Sprawl will continue to report on the ongoing corruption investigations in Maywood.  

 

Protesters Gather Outside of Councilmember Huizar’s Office to Demand More Results for Homeless Housing

Skid Row Housing Protest at HuizarÕs Boyle Heights Office

February 28, 2018 – Members of LA Catholic Worker forum in front of, Los Angeles Council Member; Jose Huizar’s Boyle Heights office, to demonstrate the development hold-ups on Prop HHH projects in the city.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / Feb 28, 2018

Protesters with the Los Angeles Catholic Workers and other homeless advocacy groups gathered outside of the office of Councilmember Jose Huizar Tuesday afternoon. Protesters say they were there to put pressure on the Council-member, whose district includes both Boyle Heights and Skid Row, to create more permanent housing for the homeless.

Signs outside of Huizar’s office read: “House Keys Not Hand-Cuffs”; “150 Vacant Buildings on Skid Row”; “⅕ People Arrested In LA are Unhoused”.

Los Angeles Voters passed measure HHH in 2016, an initiative that authorizes $1.2 Billion in bond money to fund homeless housing, with a two-thirds majority. Last December, the city began construction in East Hollywood on the first project funded with the money.

Skid Row Housing Protest at HuizarÕs Boyle Heights Office

Jeff Dedrick, a member of LA Catholic Worker, sits on in front of Jose Huizar’s office, holding a sign that reads; “How many homes did we trade for a $3.5 Billion Jail.”  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

But protesters believe the money from HHH is not hitting the streets quick enough to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. “If you have a crisis, you can’t wait around like 7 years finding a solution. And I think there clearly is a problem” says Teresa, who works at the Los Angeles Catholic Workers’ soup kitchen in Skid Row.

According to a homeless count released last year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Los Angeles County has 57,794 homeless individuals, up 23% from 2016.

The protest is meant to show solidarity with Kaleb Havens, a fellow Catholic Worker who is staging a hunger strike in Skid Row. He is currently chained to a fence near 5th and Gladys during the season of Lent, foregoing solid foods to demand the city use eminent domain to confiscate some 150 vacant properties in Skid Row and use them for housing homeless residents.

Skid Row Housing Protest at HuizarÕs Boyle Heights Office

A group of twelve members of, Los Angeles Catholic Worker demonstrate in front of Jose Huizar’s 14th District Field Office, The LACW will be protesting every Wednesday during lent to voice their frustrations on the development of housing for the homeless.  Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

“Sometimes meetings and photo opportunities are just excuses for them to do nothing” says Matt Harper, one of the protest organizers, about city leaders. “The most important thing to do is put pressure on them.”

Along with allocating more permanent housing, protesters would like to see law enforcement abandon tactics they see as predatory. These include citing the homeless for minor offenses such as loitering and littering. These policies amount to a criminalization of poverty according to some homeless advocates.

Harper noted that this protest was not merely done in Boyle Heights because it is the location of Huizar’s district office.  

“Boyle Heights has its own struggle around gentrification so we’re here try to call for greater affordable housing for all people and not just development that displaces people in this community.”

Protesters plan on coming back weekly until the end of Lent.

Taking It To The Streets: Rent Control Movements in Four Southern Californian Cities

Author: Joe Brizzolara / Feb 21, 2018

Rents are on the rise in Southern California.

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that in 2015, 57.1% of residents of the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area were paying over 30% of their income on housing. 31.8% were paying over 50% of their income on housing. A forecast released last year by USC’s Casden Real Estate Center predicts that rents will only be getting higher. By 2019, the average monthly rent in Los Angeles County will increase from 2,237 to 2,373, a 6% increase from 2017.  

Housing advocates in Long Beach, Inglewood, Pasadena, and Glendale are working to place rent control on the November ballot in the hopes of curbing these increases.

“Rent control” commonly refers to regulations set in place to cap the amount a landlord can charge a tenant for rent. Along with price ceilings for how much rent increases, these laws often include acceptable reasons for a landlord to terminate a tenancy known as just-cause, and some form of independent body that enforces these laws and settles disputes between landlords and tenants.

In Southern California 4 cities already have rent control: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and the City of Los Angeles.

Currently, the State of California has two laws that restrict cities’ abilities to enact rent control. The Costa-Hawkins Act, passed in 1995, limits rent control in 2 ways. First, it limits the types of units that can be rent controlled. Single-family homes, condos, and newly-constructed units are all exempt. Second, it bars “vacancy control” meaning that when a unit becomes vacant, a landlord can charge whatever rate a new tenant is willing to pay.

The Ellis Act, enacted in 1986, allows landlords to evict tenants from rent-controlled units if they decide to remove them from the rental market. Typically, these units are repurposed for condos, demolition, or hotels.

Along with local rent control initiatives, housing advocates are attempting to repeal Costa-Hawkins with a state-wide proposition this fall. This comes after AB 1506, a bill that would have repealed the Act, failed to pass in the California State Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee by one vote. One of the bill’s authors, Richard Bloom-D of Santa Monica, told the committee: “We have to be frank with one another, new units in sufficient quantities will take years to build. In the meantime, the current dramatic shortage of units contributes to rapidly escalating rents in much of the state, affecting a vast range of Californians on a daily basis, from young to old across all ethnic groups and even including those holding good, middle-income jobs”.

Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of the organizations behind the propositions, said on their website: “While the bill to repeal Costa Hawkins is dead in the capital, the movement to repeal Costa Hawkins is just getting started in the streets!”

Let’s take a look at the various local rent control initiatives underway in the Southland:

For Rent

For Rent, signs can be seen almost everywhere on the back streets of neighborhoods in Long Beach, CA. These four images, taken on a single block in Belmont Heights.

Long Beach

According to the site Zillow, the median rate for an apartment is 2,200, up 10% from last year. Organizers at Housing Long Beach are hoping to stop this increase with their initiative “The Long Beach Rent Control Ordinance”. They’ll need to collect signatures from 10% of the city’s registered voters, about 27,000 total, to make it on the November 2018 ballot.

Housing advocates see the situation of rising rents as dire for low-income residents. About 20% of Long Beach lives in poverty, according to the most recent figures by the U.S. Census Bureau. “We’ve had folks who have received 55% rent increases with a 60-day notice,” said Benyamin Chao, an organizer with Housing Long Beach. “To us, that’s basically an eviction notice because those people are not able to pay that rent.”

“There was one person who came in a few months ago who had an 85% rent increase,” says Jordan Wynne of Housing Long Beach. “Landlords are taking advantage of the open market we have here.”

Wynne says they based their initiative, in part, on rent control initiatives successfully passed in Northern California in 2016. Voters in Richmond and Mountain view approved rent control while voters in Burlingame, San Mateo, and Alameda rejected it. “We saw that as a great opportunity to start mobilizing and really get this rent control movement started in Long Beach,” said Wynne.

Like ordinances in Mountain View and Richmond, Housing Long Beach’s initiative includes just-cause. These reasons for a just-cause eviction include failure to pay rent, breach of lease, owner’s decision to move into the unit themselves, or removal of the entire property from the rental market. As it currently stands, a landlord in Long Beach can choose to evict their tenant for any reason whatsoever. Initiatives in Pasadena and Inglewood also feature just-cause.

According to Housing Long Beach, they initially tried to get just-cause passed through the City Council in 2016. Wynne says that after several discussion with members of the council, a floor vote was pulled at the last second. “The councilmembers have done little to alleviate either of these problems [rent increases, unfair evictions],” says Wynne, “our efforts to work with them have not been very fruitful.” This failure led them to take their case to voters directly.

This lack of cooperation from the council plays into a larger narrative viewed by many housing advocates of elected city officials being non-supportive of tenants rights.

“If they were truly standing with renters” Chao opines, “each individual council member (especially those in district 1 and district 2 who have very large renter majorities) would be taking much more leadership on this issue.”

The website LBReport released an email sent by neighborhood organizer and real estate broker Robert Fox who was preparing to run against Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia is running for re-election in November. In the email, Fox told supporters that after having discussions with the mayor in which Garcia assured him he would oppose any attempt at Rent Control he had decided against waging a challenge. “Our unanimous opposition to Rent Control was one of our critical issues,” the email reads. “[Tonight he will] announce his opposition to Rent Control and some reasons for his position.”

Many activists saw this as proof of a backroom deal struck by the Mayor that is ultimately to the detriment of economically vulnerable residents. Garcia responded in an emailed statement: “We don’t believe that rent control works, or is the right solution. Just look at rent-controlled cities like San Francisco, the most expensive market in the country.” Fox later clarified in an email response: “I did not make him give us something for me not running. I was there to discuss our issues, and we did.”

 

Rent Control

Jordan Wynne, a community organizer for Housing Long Beach, sits at his headquarters in downtown Long Beach to discuss a current charter amendment for rent control in the city of Long Beach. Wynne works alongside his colleague Benyamin Chao and Executive Director, Josh Butler. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Inglewood

The City of Champions is once again being championed by developers.

Inglewood has seen a rash of new development as of late and with it, rapidly increasing property values. $2 Billion has been invested in an extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Metro Line, connecting Inglewood with downtown and making the city more appealing to commuters. 2.66 billion has gone into the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District, home to The Rams and The Chargers. The median home value has gone up 13.8% from last year according to Zillow.

The stadium is expected to generate 25 million annually in new tax revenue, according to UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate Executive Director Tim Kawahara–a windfall for a city that nearly went bankrupt a couple of years back.

But while homeowners are enjoying their growing equity and city leadership enjoys fattening coffers, Inglewood’s renters are feeling the pinch. From September 2016 thru August 2017, the median rental price in Inglewood increased 20% according to the website Trulia.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development found 38% of Inglewood renters were paying over 30% of their income on housing in 2013. 32% paid over 50% of their income on housing. A majority of the city rents; 65.3% of housing units are rentals according to the 2016 Census.

“The community was changing with the stadium coming,” said Derek Steele, an organizer with Uplift Inglewood. Uplift Inglewood was created to “make sure the culture is preserved and the people have a place to make choices about staying or leaving rather than just being uprooted.”

Uplift Inglewood is a coalition of community and faith-based organizations as well as businesses. They are sponsoring “The Inglewood Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act.” They’ll need signatures from 15% of Inglewood’s registered voters, roughly 15,000, to make it the ballot.

“We want to make sure that progress happens but it all includes the people who have been the mainstays and who have held it down in the city when it was in the down times,” says Steele.

Steele says that Inglewood Mayor James Butts takes a “normalized” view of the gentrification currently happening in the city. According to Steele, displacement and gentrification is just “the cost of doing business” for Butts.

Mayor Butts has been in public service for over 40 years. He served in the Inglewood Police Department for over 19 years and was Chief of Santa Monica P.D. for 15 years. He was first elected mayor in 2011 when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. That year, Inglewood had an estimated $17.6 million deficit. Butts and the Council laid off workers and issued pay cuts. Since then, Inglewood has restored competitive pay for city employees and has received an upgraded credit rating of A1 from Moody’s.

Butts has taken a significant leadership role in the development, often touting his accomplishments. He negotiated a deal with Madison Square Garden to renovate the Forum, turning it into the number 1 venue in the Los Angeles Area within a year of its opening. The Los Angeles Stadium will be the largest arena in professional football at 3 million square feet. Part of its agreement with the city requires that 30% of those employed for construction live within a 5-mile radius of the site. Century Boulevard and Market Street have both seen significant re-development with the latter being spear-headed by Thomas Saffron at a $100 million price tag.  

Gentrification isn’t happening, according to Butts, because new wealthier residents are buying into middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods at premium rates, not low-income neighborhoods displacing long-time residents in the process. And it’s long-time Inglewood residents who are benefiting. He eagerly points out in an interview with The Los Angeles Sentinel that by the middle of 2017, property values had risen 102% since the end of 2012.

As far as increased rents are concerned, they are the result of an improving market. “There is nothing unique about having prosperity and inflated housing values and some people are priced out of neighborhoods,” Butts said in a panel at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. “Sometimes you just have to embrace success and take it how it comes.”

Unlike Pasadena, Long Beach, and Glendale, Uplift Inglewood decided to make their rental board an elected body. “We want to make sure we’re putting the power in the hands of the people,” says Steele. There will be five members (one from each city council district and one elected at-large) who will serve 4-year terms with a max of 3 terms. The board will act independently of the city council.

The other cities will have rental boards appointed by the City Council, with stipulations as to who can serve.  The boards would include five members: two would be landlords, two would be tenants, and one would be neither. Glendale’s ordinance goes further in stipulating that one of the renters must live in a unit priced at or below the median rate. Mike Van Gorder, a captain with the Glendale Tenants Union, says this will prevent renter representation on the board from being occupied by a renter of a luxury apartment whose perspective might not reflect lower income residents.

Nicole Hodgson, executive director of the Pasadena Tenants Union: “The reason we went with the appointed board is [so] we can make stipulations as to who gets the positions and who doesn’t.” City elections (especially those with low turnout) often come down to who has the money to run, Hodgson points out. “The fear was that [if elected] it would be a board that was not of the people.”

Rent Control

Allison Henry, working with Pasadena Tenants Union, takes to the streets after her 9 to 5 job, to inform her community about rent control and to ask them to sign a petition if in favor of rent control in their community. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Pasadena

James Clark is an Army Veteran and retired school teacher for the LA Unified School District. He lives in a row house in Pasadena’s Historic Highland Neighborhood, close to Altadena. He joined the Pasadena Tenants Union in August of last year.

“I’d been sick of hearing these horror stories,” Clark says. He contacted Nicole Hodgson and has been a member ever since.

At last year’s State of the City address, Clark asked Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek bluntly what was being done about rent control.

“There is no support on the city council, as near as I can tell, for rent control. I object to rent control for a series of reasons, not the least of which is that I think it will deter the production of new housing, drives rent up, and offers a good deal, sort of a lottery ticket for the few people that benefit from it,” Tornek responded matter-of-factly.

“In November it was 50$. In 2016 it was $100. In 2015 it was $75,” Clark says of his rent increases. Currently, he is paying $1350 a month in rent. New tenants in his building are paying $1500 for similar units. Even with his pension and Social Security, Clark is still paying over 1/3 of his income on rent. He’s able to handle the increases now, but he’s worried that if they keep rising at the same rate, he won’t be able to hold on to his apartment.

If the Pasadena Tenants Union is successful, rent increase percentages will be determined by the rental board. The increase will be dependent upon the Consumer Price Index with a max of 4.5%. The C.P.I. charts changes in the prices paid by the average consumer for everyday goods and services. It’s used by government and industry to determine inflation. Long Beach’s proposal places the max at 100% of the C.P.I.  Glendale’s rent increases would be capped at 4%.

In June of 2014, the median price for a 1-bedroom in Pasadena was $1,898. That’s up from 2,248 in June of 2017, an 18.4% increase, according to Zillow.

Nicole Hodgson describes some of the extreme cases the P.T.U. has encountered: “Folks [were] coming in in dire situations. Receiving a rent increase of $300 and then three months later, getting another one for $500.” The individual stories were beginning to have a pattern.

“They were either given a 60-day notice to move and vacate or a rental increase,” Hodgson recounts. “Someone might have been renting an apartment for 40 years and is now in retirement on a fixed income, all of a sudden [they’re] getting levied even a $1000 rent increase. So it was that that really made us decide that this is a housing crisis of epic proportions and we really need to act now.”

Like their counterparts in Inglewood and Long Beach, they found little responsiveness from city hall. Alison Henry is also a member of the P.T.U. She met with her Councilmember, John J. Kennedy of Pasadena’s 3rd district, to inform him about dramatic rent increases she and a few of her neighbors experienced in March of 2017. She got a 20% increase, and according to Henry, her neighbors were dealing with 55-60% increases. In their building, out of 16 units, 13 turned over.

“One of them had a mom, a teenage daughter,” Alison recounts. “[In] Like a year… out.”

She showed Kennedy the rent increases to alert him to their situation. “The first thing he says is ‘Wow! My tenants aren’t paying enough’” Henry claims.

Councilmember Kennedy responded in an email to The Sprawl: “I assure [you] that my response was not the insensitive comment Ms. Henry has repeated.”

“We moved forward with the charter amendment to actually give this to the city to make the decision regarding our housing policy because at this point, it’s not being listened to [by City Hall]” says Hodgson.

Rent Control

Nicole Hodgson with Pasadena Tenants Union walks towards the next house that she will be collecting signatures and speak with local Pasadenans about the rent control. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Glendale

The city of Glendale has wrestled with rent control for some time now.

A Los Angeles Times article dating back to 1986 voiced the concerns of seniors who were feeling the crunch of rising housing costs. Newly constructed high-rise offices and a scarcity of residential units were contributing to soaring rents. Real estate developers were buying up single-family homes as quickly as they so they could to turn them into multi-unit apartments. From 1980 to 1990, the population jumped 29.5%. A common So Cal trajectory was unfolding: a once quiet suburb was transforming into a bustling, small city. “Why is there no rent control in Glendale?” asked one of the seniors.

Some 30 years later and Mike Van Gorder is asking himself the same question.

“We’re in a crisis,” he says, sitting in a trendy coffee shop in Downtown Glendale.

According to Zillow, the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Glendale in December of 2016 was 1,897. In December of 2017, the median for a 1-bedroom was 2,279. That’s a 20.1% increase in a year.

The Glendale Tenants Union’s efforts come on the heels of a failed effort last year to get a rent control ordinance to the voters. It was undertaken by two retirees but was ultimately rejected by the State of California for not meeting election standards. They spliced together two existing rent control ordinances and wrote the proposal themselves. There were some serious errors: they didn’t have the full text of the ordinance, they didn’t have a summary above the signature line, signatures were submitted that had been pasted to other petitions. “The short-hand for all of this is that they didn’t get legal support,” concludes Van Gorder.  

“[They formed] a coalition that would eventually put together 11,000 signatures.” Van Gorder points out that this is especially impressive because 11,000 signatures are more total voters (if in fact, the signatures represent actual registered voters in the city of Glendale) than the highest vote earners in the most recent City Council election. Councilmember Ara James Najarian got the highest amount with 9,962 votes. Mike Van Gorder ran unsuccessfully himself, securing 3,148 votes.

While collecting signatures for the original proposal, Van Gorder “ran into people who were in the process of moving out because they had gotten these huge rent increases. Like literally three families, families that I ran across putting stuff in moving boxes.”

“I wish we had had this last year because if we did then I would’ve been able to stay and my kid’s coulda stayed in the school with their friends” Van Gorder remembers them telling him.  

Currently, Glendale has just-cause with an exemption for lease agreements that are at least one year long. If the ordinance passes, this exemption will be eliminated.

In a joint session with the Glendale Housing Authority, the City Council met in August of 2016 to discuss strategies for dealing with affordable housing. One of the ideas floated was requiring landlords to offer a yearly-lease to tenants. This would offer tenants the security of knowing what their rent would be for a full twelve months, avoiding a 60-day notice of a rent increase they can’t afford. No action has been taken on this idea thus far.

Then-councilmember and current mayor Vartan Gharpetian spoke bluntly about the situation, saying there is a problem with dramatic rent increases that requires an expedited solution.

“We need to come up with a solution to take the load off of the people who cannot adjust their lives within 60 days to pay 5, 6, $700 of $1000 more in rent,” Gharapetian said.  

Gharpetian himself is a real estate broker. If he’s acknowledging a problem, he points out, there really is a problem. “This is about the predatory ways rents are going up.”

Similar to the way in which many office units are leased, Gharpetian believes that these 1-year leases should include an option for renewal that will establish what the rent increase will be in the next year so that “you can set your life up, 2, 3 years in advance.”

The Glendale Tenants Union’s proposal would create an ordinance that would have similar effects as the other initiatives: cap rents, establish a rental board, expand just-cause. As opposed to Inglewood and Pasadena though, which are passing charter amendments which then require another charter amendment to be reversed, Glendale’s ordinance can be repealed a year after its passing.

So what’s stopping the Glendale City Council, which is not supportive of rent control, to undo the ordinance after a year?

“If they do so, they’re doing so against the wishes of a majority of their city which will sink their re-election odds,” says Van Gorder. “It’d set up a platform for activists like me to take over the government.”

 

Opposition

City officials aren’t the only ones who oppose rent control.

Apartment associations, organizations that represent the interests of apartment owners and real estate developers, pour tons of resources into fighting any new form of regulation within their industry.

Most recently, The California Apartment Association took an active role in defeating the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. Of the committee members that voted on the Costa-Hawkins repeal, four had received campaign contributions from apartment associations. One of the abstaining votes, Democrat Jim Woods out of Humboldt, received a contribution of 4,400 from the California Apartment Association for his 2018 re-election campaign.

Dan Yukelson, Executive Director of Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, acknowledges that there is an affordable housing crisis. Though it is perhaps not as invasive as many housing advocates claim.

“Some people are being priced out of their houses that they’ve been at for a long time. But the problem is rent control doesn’t help supply additional housing,” Yukelson argues. “In fact, it only discourages new development.”

Opponents of rent control often argue that by lowering the number of units priced at market values (or are available at all), the housing supply is lowered which increases demand which then results in an increase in market rates. “There is a shortage of housing. And what happens when you have a shortage in a capitalist society is prices go up. Demand is high and supply is low,” says Yukelson.

“Rent control also encourages housing providers to convert to condominiums.”

A study released late last year by two Stanford economists found that Rent Control may have actually accelerated gentrification in San Francisco. San Francisco has had rent control since 1994. Its ordinance closely mirrors those being proposed in Southern California. They found that landlords affected by rent control decreased their rentable units by 30% since 1994. This was largely a result of landlords converting their buildings into condos or single-family homes, unit types that are prevented from being rent controlled by state law.  

The study also found that renters of rent-controlled units save, on average, between $2,300 and $6,600 a year from cheaper rent.

Yukelson believes that one of the solutions to affordable housing is government subsidies, not price ceilings. He supports programs where apartment owners get tax vouchers to offer affordable units for a finite amount of time. This incentivizes the creation of affordable units rather than legally constricting an existing unit to keep it affordable.

Orange County’s Forbidden City

Author: Chris Rusnaowsky / Feb 1, 2018

 

Video Credit: Camilo Ramirez

One of the largest encampments in the United States stands on a flood control riverbed near Anaheim Stadium, California. The growing numbers of makeshift camps have caught attention from the public and city officials. This encampment stretches over 6 miles from the Santa Ana River Trail to Ball Road and has over 500 campers on the county property.

On January 22, 2018, the OC Sheriffs department started the eviction process of the homeless encampment. “We’re not going to come in with an Army of Deputies and force everybody off in 24 hours,” said Undersheriff Don Barnes at press conference. City employees could be seen conducting a routine collection of orange trash bags that were provided to the homeless and loading them in the back of trucks to keep control of waste build ups.

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Orange County workers collect orange trash bags, that was placed by the homeless residents for disposal. 01/22/2018 Anaheim, CA – Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

The Sheriff’s department posted eviction notices on encampments and fence poles to inform the homeless that the eviction would take place on January 22nd. “I saw the notices, but did not read it.” one homeless woman said. Later in the afternoon, some homeless campers started making preparations to move. A man working on a small go-kart engine said he was away from his camp for a week and was unaware of the eviction. As he primed the small engine and pulled to start, he said: “I don’t know where I will go and don’t know what to do with my belongings.”

A number of shelters and organizations have teamed up with the counties eviction by offering services to the homeless. A county contractor by the name of City Net has helped 171 people with case management services according to the data provided by the county. Beds are offered to the homeless at Courtyard Shelter in Santa Ana and Bridges at Kraemer in Anaheim year around.

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Ishmael Haring, from Kanas City, Kanas, has been living on the Anaheim Encampment for a year. Ishmael moved to Southern California for College in business. After struggling with a drug addiction he found himself living on the streets. Ishmael is focusing on positive things in his life, such as a film he is making called; “Empire of Ghosts” using a smartphone to document the encampment and the people living in it. 01/22/2018 Anaheim, CA – Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

With the issue of a short number of beds available, a season emergency shelter called Fullerton Armory has offered 237-floor mats, warm meals, showers and a shuttle service to transport the homeless to the Armory before operation hours. Mercy House told us that only one individual has used the shuttle, but that a large line is formed at 7 pm, the armories opening hour.

This begs the question: Where will the remaining homeless go? “There are 35 counties that enforce anti-camping ordinance and criminalize sleeping in public spaces” Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy analyst and advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union said.

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MJ, was a profession commercial diver at one point of his life. In 2009 he was shot in the head with a .44 mm bullet, by an home intruder and survived. He was unable to work after that the tragedy, being out of work lead MJ to live in the encampment for two years.

MJ, a commercial welding diver that lost his job after being shot in the head during a house invasion in 2009.“I refuse to stay in a place that runs like a dictatorship,” he said. “Telling me when to sleep, when to eat, when to use the restroom and when I can leave. That’s not what my forefathers and kinfolk bled and died for. They don’t want to see us in the parks, by the malls so where are we supposed to go?”

Homeless advocates have sued Orange County. The Lawsuit was filed by the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center. The lawsuit accuses the county of violating the Civil Rights of the homeless. Advocates hope to stopping the clearance until there’s enough housing for the homeless. Todd Spitzer, a California State Assembly Member, stated in a previous press hearing that he expected to be sued after the clearance. Spitzer said his data reveals the homeless don’t want services. Homeless advocates dispute the Sheriff’s statistics that 81% of homeless are interested in case management services that lead to housing.

Restrooms and Retorts: The Skid Row ReFresh Spot

Author: Joe Brizzolara / Jan 31, 2018

In most neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the opening of a public restroom is unlikely to get much media attention. Skid Row, a 50 block district in the eastern section of downtown, is unlike most neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Of the counties 57,794 homeless people, Skid Row is home to 4,633 of them. That means that while accounting for only .0001% of the county’s total land area, Skid Row holds about 8% percent of the homeless population.

An audit done by the Los Angeles Central Providers Collaborative, Skid Row Community Residents and Partners found that the number of available restrooms for Skid Row’s homeless population is less than that offered in a Syrian refugee camp. The audit, titled “No Place to Go”, found between the hours of 6pm and 6am there are 9 restrooms available for some 1,777 people living on the streets of Skid Row. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees sets their sanitation standards at 1 toilet for every 20 people. At night, Skid Row is short of the UN’s sanitation standards by 80 toilets. During the day, when homeless shelters release their occupants and the number of people on the streets increases, that number jumps and Skid Row falls short of the standard by 164 toilets.

A lack of bathrooms and hygiene facilities is believed to have been a huge factor in a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A. On September 9th, 2017, the LA County Department of Public Health declared an outbreak of the disease. The disease affects the liver and can be severe. It is transmitted by fecal contact with an infected person. The biggest affected community are the homeless, followed by service providers for the homeless. From their statement: “The hepatitis A virus can spread when a person does not properly wash their hands after going to the bathroom or changing diapers… People who are homeless are at higher risk because they face challenges to maintaining good hygiene.”

The city responded by opening the Skid Row ReFresh Spot. Located on Crocker Street between 5th and 6th, the Skid Row ReFresh Spot offers 8 restrooms and 6 showers broken up into 2 separate facilities for men and women. It’s staffed full-time with a mix of volunteers and paid staff who are both male and female. The staff includes Skid Row community members and residents. The space is inviting with plants, music, and a seating area for residents to lounge and socialize. The Skid Row ReFresh Spot is open 32 hours a week from 5 to 1pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 1 to 9pm on Thursdays, and on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm.

Evans Clark manages the facility and is an employee of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization that has been contracted by the city to provide the service. “I’m from the Skid Row area and they needed someone from the Skid Row Community to kinda come in and oversee the project”.  

“Daily we provide showers, we provide shower kits, they can use the toilets.” He said that on average, they see 75 to 80 people. On the whole, they’ve received positive feedback. Clark says they plan to eventually expand the hours and also add three new trailers. “One’s gonna be for showers only. The other one’s gonna be for the bathrooms. And one’s for the washers and dryers.” He thinks that once this expansion is complete, there will be constant traffic of visitors.

The city has invested 1.8 million into the project. “We have to do everything possible to help people stay healthy and live with the dignity that each one of us deserves,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti at the opening. “Homelessness is a crisis of housing and public health — and the ReFresh Spot shows that when the community and City work together, we can help the most vulnerable Angelenos meet their most basic human needs.”

“People from the mayor’s office attends our meetings,” Clark says. The city interfaces with the center daily: “Emails, meetings, phone calls, text messages.”

Councilmember Jose Huizar introduced the motion to secure funding for the project, pulling from the city’s general fund and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s budget. Huizar represents the 14th District which includes Skid Row. “This will be more than a hygiene center,” Huizar said. “Our aim is to give the residents of Skid Row a sense of hope and dignity that better days are possible while we also take action to protect them from the spread of Hepatitis A. Today is not the end of our efforts. It is just the beginning, but it represents a critical first-step.”

Louise Mbella “Sinai”, known in the community as ‘Frenchy’, is a community organizer and advocate for homeless rights. She contributed to the bathroom audit and was involved in the planning of the Skid Row ReFresh Spot. “We wanted to make sure that the concept, everything behind the hygiene center… respect[s] the lives of the people unsheltered [and] on the streets.” According to “Sinai”, the city was sensitive to the Skid Row community’s discomfort with officials and law enforcement in handling security. “They picked a security company that’s been dealing with communities that are in need, that are poverty stricken… They know to de-escelate not just say ok put your hands up. [They know to] not use physical force unnecessarily.”

Not everyone is so pleased with the Skid Row ReFresh Spot however. General Dogon is a human rights organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network. LA CAN is known to butt heads with City officials and the L.A.P.D. over what they perceive as a long history of neglect and abuse towards Skid Row’s homeless on the part of the state. At the opening, General Dogon ripped up a certificate given to him by the city as appreciation for LA CAN’s involvement in the creation of the Skid Row ReFresh Spot. “This award is just like the mayor and his cronies. Worthless” he said while standing at a podium inches away from Garcetti. “These toilets you bringing, it’s 10 years too late and it’s 300 too short!”

General Dogon spoke with The Sprawl and added context to this last point. In 2012, he points out, the LA County Department of Public Health issued a report ordering the city to clean up Skid Row. One of their recommendations was more public restrooms and handwashing stations to deal with piles of human waste and other biohazards that were accumulating throughout Skid Row.

“According to the United Nations, we needed 382 toilets to get out of the crisis situation that we in,” says General Dogon. “The Mayor’s office thought that delivering 6 temporary toilets in a toilet crisis where almost 50 times that much is needed, that that would be acceptable… I am not impressed.”