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The Mayor, the Kids….and the Absurd Politics of City Pools

July 31st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday afternoon, July 31, thirty-five kids in bathing suits, plus their parents,
showed up at the Olympic size pool at the new $168 million Miguel Contreras Learning Complex (one of LAUSD’s very favorite new projects), located at the corner of 3rd and Lucas Streets, near Alvarado. The kids and the parents arrived at poolside hoping to embarrass the mayor, or the school district, or LA City Parks and Recreation—or SOMEBODY—into opening the damn thing for general use so that local children could have a place to swim and play during LA’s driest summer in forty years.

So far, the mayor, the school district, Parks and Rec, et al have—Marx Brothers style—each pointed at each other and claimed they’re the problem.

Somebody please slap these people. (The ones in business suits, not the ones in bathing suits.)

All the pool needs by the way, is a life guard. (Or 7 to 10 life guards, if one is to be exact.) No kidding. That’s it. There are 700 lifeguards employed by the City of Los Angeles. Surely, a few can be spared. (They’re only making $13.08 an hour.)

Or failing that, the city has said it already has the money to hire special guards for the Miguel Contreras pool. Parks and Rec also swears they have money allocated for said guards too.

So why has no one gotten the guards? It’s the Marx Brothers thing again. After six months of negotiations, new objections and new putative costs continue to arise. The latest is something having to do with the need for banks of lockers for the pool to be opened, says a very frustrated Robert Garcia, Executive Director and Counsel for The City Project, the nonprofit advocacy group that’s been trying to help break the logjam.

Right. Can’t safely swim in pool without having metal lockers in the vicinity
. Hell, everybody knows that.

Garcia also says says that, out of all the foot-dragging players,
Mayor Villaraigosa is the one best positioned to cut through the red tape and get the pool opened.

So mister mayor, Antonio…..hon, can we talk?
This has not been a great summer for you, okay? But right now you have a chance to be a hero—on a small scale, yes, but symbolically this could be a Big Deal. Think about it, this neighborhood surrounding the Contreras pool is the most park-poor district in all of LAUSD, and one of the poorest the State of California. No, I’m not kidding, Antonio. Look it up. It’s got one half acre of parks per 1000 residents. That’s bad.

Furthermore, New York City has what’s called a Master Joint Use Agreement between the school district and the city. They’ve had for over half a century. As a consequence, they don’t have these kinds of Pool-related Power-struggles. By contrast, in Los Angeles, LAUSD and the city hardly speak except in the presence of neutral witnesses. You used to have a reputation as the great conciliator. So conciliate, already.

Get the pool open, Antonio. Spin it as an anti-gang strategy, if you must. It gves kids something positive to do besides hanging out in the street. You know, “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Pool.” It could be your new motto.

Please. Just do it.

Posted in City Government, Education, Gangs, LAUSD | 22 Comments »

Jeremy & Theresa: Sadly Dispelling the Faux Death Theories ***UPDATED -X 2***

July 31st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


The AP has reported this afternoon
that, the NYPD has now confirmed that the body found by a New Jersey fisherman a week ago, was indeed that of Theresa Duncan’s long-time lover, artist Jeremy Blake.

Like most people tracking this emotionally-fractured and dispiriting story, I wish it were otherwise.

And here, for those of you who have not already run across it, is a link to one of the more interesting, but quite reality-challenged web theories now running rife through the cyber countryside, about how Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake’s deaths were part of some elaborate postmodern hoax or ARG—alternate reality game. (Note to Mr. Dream’s End, one of the prime theorizers: Nice work, dude, but time to leave the keyboard and get yourself some fresh air. Trust me on this one.)

I’ll have a fuller post on Friday or Monday, after I’m deadline free.

In the meantime, I appreciate the tips and comments that some of you have sent my way. While it won’t change the underlying sad reality,somehow we’d all feel better if we understood the “why” of it a little better.


UPDATE: IN THIS MORNING’S LA TIMES…writer Swati Pandey talks about Theresa Duncan fandom. It’s a sweet, sad, respectful but emotionally honest little piece, and worth reading for the obsessed among us.

David Segal has written what is, far-and-away, the most comprehensive and best researched piece on the couple to date.

Posted in Life in general, Los Angeles writers | 3 Comments »

Green Dot’s Steve Barr Does Forbes …and Maybe Chicago

July 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Barr and baby Zofia during the 2005-06 Jefferson High takeover bid

Green Dot’s national profile just got another couple of bumps upward in the last 24 hours:
One is in the form of a nicely reported Forbes piece by Peter Beller on the charter school group’s founder, Steve Barr.

The second is in the form of an intriguing event in the city of Chicago that may have Much Larger Implications for LAUSD’s relationship to Green Dot, although no one is yet talking about it openly.

I’ll get to Chicago in a minute. First Forbes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 9 Comments »

SEX and Violence… Prison: An Official Report

July 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, now that I have your attention….

I’m on a book-related deadline until Thursday afternoon
, so posts will not be novella length in these next few days, but with any luck I’ll still catch the relevant items to bounce your way.

Like this one: The San Bernardino Sun reports that last week 200 inmates at the California State Prison at Chino (California Institution for Men) participated in survey about sexual assaults in America’s jails and prisons. Approximately, 80,000 inmates serving time at 148 prisons and 300 jails nationwide are expected to be surveyed when all is said and done.

It seems that the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003
requires that a survey be conducted in 10 percent of the nation’s prisons each year. And the Bureau of Justice is the group tasked to do it.

The most recent of these surveys available online is from 2005
. And some of its findings are….curious. I’ll let you do your own cruising around the report, if you’ve a mind to do it. But here are the things that, to my way of thinking, stood out:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in prison, prison policy | 4 Comments »

Gangs and the Terrible Politics of Snitching

July 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Agustine Lizama and his long-time girlfriend

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an interesting and alarming story
about a man who was a witness to a gang murder and, at first testified as to the shooters’ identity in front of grand jury, then got spooked and—to use the term favored by frustrated cops and prosecutors—he pissed backwards.

But when the case came to trial, with a phalanx of gang members glaring at him in open court, Mr. Roe changed his story, testifying that he had heard the shots but never saw who fired them. The two suspects were acquitted.

Now Mr. Roe is the criminal defendant, facing up to three years in prison for the sin of being scared silent…… His is one of a small but growing cadre of cases nationally in which angry and frustrated prosecutors are turning the tables on witnesses who recant.

Getting witnesses to testify in gang trials has become a huge problem nationwide, and nowhere is the problem greater than in Los Angeles.

The subject came up in a dramatic way just last week when I guest lectured at a class at the UCLA School of Public Affairs taught by my friend, Jorja Leap who, in addition to being a terrific pal, is an international expert in crisis intervention and trauma response—and Antonio Villaraigosa’s policy adviser on gangs.

Anyway, Jorja made her class read my gang book
, and wanted me to give her students some kind of follow-up talk. To make things a bit more interesting, I asked three of the guys I know who work at Homeboy Industries to show up too and be part of the lecture.

The three men—Joseph Holguin, Agustin Lizama, and Luis Perez
—are all in their early 30’s and all former homeboys with fairly harrowing personal stories to tell. I also know them to be extremely dynamic and articulate. So when they arrived at the lecture hall, I simply turned the floor over to them, and stood back to watch the show.

They got up and talked, one after the other, about their respective pasts
—about horrifically traumatic childhoods, about the lure and familial comfort of the gang, about when they’d been shot, or shot at. They described the horror of seeing young friends shot and killed, talked about time spent in jail or prison, about struggles with drugs and/or alcohol….and then they each explained how and why they’d been able to climb out of the downward trajectory their gang pasts had predicted, to finally begin to build lives with promising futures.

All three spoke with passion, intelligence and candor about where they’ve been, what they’ve done wrong, and how good it feels to finally be doing things right.

The last of the three to speak was Augustine
—a bright, gentle man who’d been one of the stars of the poetry project I wrote about earlier. (Actually all three were involved, in one way or another.) Agustine talked about how he’d had his hand shot off at the forearm when he was 12-years old. How he’d been stabbed at 13.

And then he told a story I’d never heard before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, Gangs, juvenile justice | 24 Comments »

NOT AGAIN! The Governator Vetoes the Prison Sunshine Bill

July 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Corcoran State Prison
Corcoran State Prison

Honestly, there is no excuse for this action. None. Zero. Zip.

Late Friday afternoon, Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 304—State Senator Gloria Romero’s bill that would have given the press reasonable, albeit still regulated, access to California State prisons. Oh, yeah, this is the fifth time he’s vetoed some version of the bill.

SB 304, the Prison Sunshine Bill, was passed by the state senate in May, by the state assembly about a week and a half ago—both by a wide, bipartisan margin.

WLA blogged about this issue in detail early this spring, so I won’t revisit all that here. But, what with nearly every federal judge within shouting distance of Sacramento castigating the governor for allowing unconstitutional conditions to flourish in the state’s prisons like toxic mold, one would think that Schwarzenegger would sign Romero’s bill, if for no worthier reason, simply as PR ploy.

I mean, hell, Arnold,
why not at least pretend you have nothing to hide?

But evidently, control is more important.

If you read it, you’ll find that the bill is pretty simple.
It basically says that press may request interviews with prisoners, that the requests should be answered in a timely fashion, and should be granted unless there’s a compelling reason not to do so—safety issues being the top of the least of such compelling reasons. It also states that press may bring pads and pencils or recording devices to the interviews. (As of now, often even a pad and pencil is forbidden.)

Finally, it has a couple of sentences about how the prison staff can’t retaliate against an inmate just because he or she has either been the subject of a press request, or has actually talked to a reporter.

There you have it. Nothing outsized or unreasonable in a country that theoretically welcomes press scrutiny.

In his veto message, Arnold used the usual claptrap as his excuse–that press access would “glamorize murderers”….blah, blah, blah.

Right. That’s what we’re all dying to do.

No, what press access would do is shine a bright light on the gross mismanagement of the system. And that’s something this governor won’t allow.

Posted in crime and punishment, prison, prison policy, State government | 9 Comments »

Kevin Roderick on Blogging Theresa Duncan

July 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Jeremy and Theresa photo by Bret of Yo Venice

News of the sorrow-producing deaths of blogger, writer, filmmaker Theresa Duncan
and her lover, new art star, Jeremy Blake, appeared in the blogs way before any of the conventional news outlets managed to be curious enough to write a story.

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed (LA’s primary morning must-read blogger) broke the story on Thursday, July 19, with a fuller entry the next day, plus multiple follow-ups. Various blogs soon followed. Whereas the New York Times and other New York papers finally managed to slap themselves awake a full 48 hours later, on Saturday, July 21 (or shortly thereafter).

Amazingly, the somnambulist LA Times didn’t get around to writing about Duncan and Blake until Wednesday, July 25 —never mind that Venice resident Duncan was a vibrant player in the LA’s new literary scene—thus her death was a story the Times should naturally have covered, (ahead of, say, yet another idiotic blurb on freaking Posh Spice).

For the record, WLA even saw fit to write about Duncan’s death
three days ahead of the Times, even though it clearly wasn’t a social justice issue; it was nonetheless a story that wouldn’t leave my head.

Today, Roderick, does his KCRW commentary
on the relationship of the blogs to the coverage of Duncan’s tragic story. (You can listen on the radio at 4:44 PM, or just find it online, whenever you like.) Judging by blogmaster Kevin’s other KCRW commentaries, it’s worth a listen.

Posted in Life in general, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, media | 13 Comments »

The Supremes….and Buyers’ Remorse

July 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Someone might have done well to have reminded Arlen Specter a year or two ago that certain items have a no return policy
—like, say, the Supreme Court. You buy ‘em. You keep ‘em.

Or more precisely, we keep ‘em.

And largely because of you, Arlen dear, we’re stuck with Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

The issue that worries Specter is whether Roberts and Alito were truthful during their Senate confirmation hearings that Specter chaired. (He’s the ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary committee.) To be specific, Specter wants to go back through SCOTUS decisions to review whether the men have followed through with their respective claimed commitments to stare decisis. This is the legal doctrine that translates as “to stand by things decided”—in other words, except in extreme cases, one should honor legal precedent to avoid having the law whipsawed every time the court composition changes its political slant.

(Plessy v. Ferguson would be a swell example of an extreme case.)

During the hearings, both men claimed to believe in the doctrine
, and evidently Specter bought it. Now it seems that Arlen Specter is beginning to get the feeling that Roberts and Alito were….you know….lying.

According to Politico’s Carrie Budoff, “the idea for a review came to Specter when he said he ran into Justice Stephen G. Breyer at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.” Breyer told Specter that the justices were kicking stare decisis in the teeth—or words to that effect.

“I only noticed it in a couple of cases,” Specter said of the court
overturning or undermining precedents. But Breyer, in their Aspen conversation, said “there were eight.”

PS: This week, Specter’s mistrust politicians’ veracity in general seems to be on a roll, as evidenced by the way, yesterday, he stared Alberto Gonzales in the face and told him, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.”

Go, Arlen. Better late than never, I guess.

Posted in National politics, Supreme Court | 25 Comments »

New LAPD Union Head

July 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Bob Bakertim-sands.jpg
Baker….and new guy, Sands

The word just went out mid day on Thursday that Bob Baker
, the police union prez for the past five years, is stepping down and is being replaced by his second in command, Tim Sands.

I’ve not always agreed with Baker (to put it delicately), but he’s a good man, always open for a heartfelt conversation…..and he managed to forge a more cooperative relationship with the chief and the city than we’ve seen in the recent past.

Interestingly, Bob’s going to work for District Attorney Steve Cooley, where he will be “working as a liaison with law enforcement.”

Don’t know much about Sands. So, for now, we’re in Wait And See mode.

But early word is Sands is a straight shooter, cops cop (read: an alright guy an all, but possibly a tad overly boy scoutish, and definitely not likely to be asked to do his own talk show any time soon).

Whereas Baker was the smart, genial guy in the crowd who could discuss a wide range of subjects with passion and humor, and managed to get along easily with most everybody—unless you crossed him on that one little issue, of course: the union. (But, we could respect his occasional intractability. The union was, after all, his job. His baby.)

Sorry to see you go, Bob. Cooley was smart to snatch you.

Posted in crime and punishment, LAPD, Police | 1 Comment »

The Return of Alan M, the Hinchey Amendment, a Ploy to Cripple Charter Schools, and other Thursday News

July 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Furious local constituent expresses self

1. THE GOOD NEWS AND THE BAD NEWS about our treasured pal Alan Mittelstaedt
is that…the reason he hasn’t been writing here at WLA (the bad news) is that he was hired as News Editor for LA City Beat (the good news) and his LA Sniper column premiers today. It’s smart, snarky, well informed and will easily become a must read for Los Angeles folks (and anyone else who appreciates smart snark).

In terms of the reactions of those in city government
…? Well, let’s just say I’ve advised Alan to invest heavily in Kevlar.


2. THE HINCHEY ROHRABACHER AMENDMENT (PREDICTABLY) WENT down to defeat yesterday evening. Here is the exact roll call vote. Shout accordingly.

And here’s an except from Maurice Hinchey’s
post vote statement:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in City Government, Courts, crime and punishment, Government, National politics, prison, prison policy, Public Health, State government | 5 Comments »

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