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Mayoral Candidates Talk Neighborhood Safety, Cops, Gang Intervention & More

December 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



On Thursday night LA mayoral candidates allowed themselves to be grilled for nearly two hours on issues
of neighborhood safety and violence prevention by four LA journalists.

Three of the four main candidates—LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, LA City Councilmember, Jan Perry and attorney and former radio host, Kevin James—submitted to questions by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze, the LA Times’ Jim Newton, Pilar Marrero from La Opinion, Stanley Willford from Our Weekly, and Nicole Chang from Korea Daily, who posed her questions via SKYPE. (Warren Olney from KCRW was originally scheduled to attend, but had to bow out.)

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gave opening remarks then tossed out the first topic of the night when he said that one of the most important issues for him was whether or not the candidates intended to continue to support GRYD, the city’s gang violence prevention and intervention program that is presently housed in the mayor’s office.

Moderator Frank Stoltze made the question one step more specific and asked if the candidates would keep at least the current funding for the GRYD program and maintain the job of heading GRYD as a deputy mayor position.

Wendy Greuel said YES and YES, and followed up by saying that she planned to try to talk existing GRYD head, Guillermo Cespedes, into staying. (Cespedes was in the audience.)

Jan Perry also said YES, and talked about the need to address the trauma faced by kids in the city’s most violence-haunted communities. Kevin James was another YES, but stayed with his theme of the night, which seemed to be “Yes, but…. those City Hall insiders are doing a dreadful job, and can’t balance the budget,” or words to that effect.

In addition, James said that he thought there should be less use of former gang members as gang interventionists, that he would bring in respected community members that kids could look up to and relate to.

At this, the cadres of gang interventionists and community activists in the audience began visibly frowning.

Eric Garcetti had a conflict that night, and so was a No Show but sent his answer to Beck’s and Stoltz’s questions through civil rights attorney, Connie Rice, of the Advancement Project, who related that Garcetti would keep GRYD but move it out of the mayor’s office and, instead, establish it as a commission.

Rice made it clear that she thought the commission idea was a lousy one. In response to her follow-up questioning, all the candidates dutifully thought the idea lousy too.

“This is not something for a commission filled by part time people who have other jobs,” said James, and everyone nodded.

(WLA agrees.)

Other questions ranged from how many LAPD officers each candidate would pledge to keep (Greuel went for the full 10,000 while everyone else hedged), what they thought about gang injunctions and the gang database, and how they would lower crime in Koreatown.

By night’s end, the consensus of many of the gang interventionists and other local activists in the room seemed to be that Perry best understood the concerns of the city’s most violence plagued communities, but that they also liked Greuel, and thought her capible, yet felt that she needed to show up at a few more crime scenes and meetings in the ‘hood to gain credibility. Most thought Kevin James seemed sincere, and had interesting opinions on some topics, but was clueless on others and probably didn’t have a chance anyway.

(Since Garcetti wasn’t there he didn’t factor into the reviews.)

All I spoke with said they appreciated the fact that the candidates had been willing to hang out for more than two hours while these topics of high concern got laid on the table.

The forum was sponsored by the Advancement Project, the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, Liberty Hill, the LAPPL, The Riordan Foundation, and a pile of others.


NEW REPORT LOOKS AT THE AFFECT OF VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA ON AMERICA’S KIDS

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney General’s Task for on Children Exposed to Violence presented its sobering report Defending Childhood.

After the first of the year, we’ll be looking much further into what we ought to be taking away from the report’s findings.

In the meantime, California Endowment Pres. Robert Ross writes for the Huffington Post about the importance of what the report has discovered.

Here’s a clip:

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….At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights took a hard look at school discipline policies and investigated how extreme rules using suspensions push students away from school and toward a life of crime. At the other end of the street, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released the findings of a year-long study, reporting on the latest research about the impact of trauma on children’s lives.

Taken together, the two issues sound an alarm for the ways our schools and neighborhoods push kids away from the things we all want and deserve — a good education, a safe neighborhood, and a chance at the American Dream. While all this may seem less immediate than the fiscal cliff, it is every bit as urgent.

Childhood exposure to violence is a national epidemic. Every year, two out of every three of our children — 46 million — can expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime, abuse, and psychological trauma this year. It’s not hard to figure out the negative effects on society. The Task Force on Children’s Exposure to Violence describes something we all intuitively know: that witnessing traumatic events disrupts our ability to function in a healthy way, make good decisions, and move forward in our lives. For kids, the impact of trauma is even more pronounced.

Children exposed to violence are less able to concentrate in class. Their brains are consumed with processing the toxic stress in their lives and are not free to process the important things of childhood, like academic learning and developing critical interpersonal and life management skills.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m still absorbing the wealth of information from Wednesday and Thursday’s California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Conference. More on that in the weeks to come.

Posted in City Controller, City Government, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, LAPD, law enforcement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Fighting the Pull of LA’s Gangs by Strengthening Families

February 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



When it comes to trying to keep kids out of gangs
(or grabbing kids as they’re slipping perilously in the direction of the streets), Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes says he’s switching the emphasis of the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development program—GRYD—from individuals to families.

Cespedes, who was named by the mayor to head GRYD in 2009, has a background in social work, and is a strong believer in family systems theory—the idea that an individual can’t be best understood in isolation, but rather as a part of a multigenerational family or a “system.”

Since he came to the job, Cespedes has been working steadily to make better use of the family systems model in the design of the city’s gang prevention programs.

LA Times columnist Jim Newton takes a look at how Cespedes and GYRD are doing: Here’s a clip:

….Gripped by the sense that they were losing control, the parents [in a particular family whose kids were drifting toward trouble] called for help. It came in the form of a local organization, whose counselor dove into the life of this young family, escorting the kids to school, arranging for tutors, counseling the parents. Slowly, life settled down. The son got glasses, started doing his homework and brought up his grades; the younger daughter joined a program for future executives and thrived.

Asked to explain what got his attention and turned him around, the boy responded, “Jesus,” then quickly added, “and the ladies.”

The counselor for this session was Harry Aponte, a nationally recognized gang-intervention expert from Philadelphia, and he patiently waded through the family history as the audience of intervention workers listened, many taking notes.

This family-centered approach represents a new tack in Los Angeles’ long quest to divert young people from gangs. The philosophy behind it is that focusing on a single troubled child isn’t enough. Schools and neighborhoods surround children, but their families are their core of support and thus the most natural people to help them.

“We’re shifting the focus from the individual to the family,” Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes explained. “Every family has a problem-solving mechanism that gets jammed. We’re trying to address that.”

Newton also reports that, at a meeting last week with the Times editorial board, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is so sold on what Cespedes is doing that, “… he’s judging the field of mayoral candidates in part by which ones would keep the office structured as part of the mayor’s staff. That configuration is useful, Beck explained, because gang crime is not spread evenly throughout the city, and giving the council oversight of the efforts means that there are pressures to spread its resources across 15 districts, rather than concentrate them where they are needed. ‘If [the program] becomes a council department again,’ he said, ‘it’s not going to have the focus it has now.’”

Posted in Charlie Beck, City Government, Gangs | No Comments »

Much Chatter Follows Resignation of Jeff Carr, Villaraigosa’s Chief of Staff

July 7th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


When Antonio Villaraigosa’s Chief of Staff, Jeff Carr,
resigned unexpectedly on Wednesday, “to return to the non-profit world” there was much speculation about whether or not the resignation was entirely voluntary.

Dennis Romero of LA Weekly wrote:

Interestingly, he said he didn’t have another job lined up, but that he wanted to return to the nonprofit world. (No “more-time-with-the-family” for this guy, apparently).

Carr, if you remember, was the city’s first Gang Czar before being elevated to be the mayor’s top guy.

The LA Times’ David Zahniser reported Carr’s upcoming exit with more detailed speculation:

Villaraigosa supporters offered differing accounts as to whether Carr had been encouraged to leave. Carr himself denied receiving any pressure. But others in the mayor’s orbit said Villaraigosa, who will be forced out by term limits in June 2013, wanted a change in management that would allow him to complete key goals.

“The mayor’s got two years left. He’s got a lot of stuff he wants to do,” said one source close to the mayor who would only comment if not identified because Villaraigosa did not grant permission to speak. “It just felt like there’s enough time left to get the house in working order better, to finish strong.”

{SNIP]

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said Carr “did his best” in a city suffering from a bruising recession, a string of budget shortfalls and a badly decaying infrastructure, particularly streets and highways.

“The chief of staff is supposed to keep the trains running on time. And I don’t believe there’s anyone in the city who would say the trains in L.A. are running on time,” he said.

Discord over Carr’s leadership also could be found within the mayor’s office.

One person familiar with Carr’s departure said members of Villaraigosa’s staff went to Carr last week to express concerns about his management style. That person also would not speak if identified, saying the mayor had not given authorization to discuss the staffing changes.

Based on what my sources have told me, David Z. has it right- about a group going at first to Jeff Carr but then, feeling unsatisfied with the outcome of the meeting, to the mayor. This was reportedly combined with the fact that Villaraisgosa has the intention to do a reboot of his administration and his political trajectory—a process into which presumably Jeff Carr was no longer seen to fit.


NEW TOP MAYOR’S GUY (OR GIRL)?

Joseph Mailander of Mulholland Terrace is having a good time speculating. Check out his List of Six.


HEADED OUT FOR A TWO-WEEK ROAD TRIP THIS (THURSDAY) MORNING….

For the next few days, keep an eye on the WLA Twitter feed, on the right of the page here. ——>

And, yes, I did see the story about the guy in Yellowstone who was attacked an killed by a griz on Wednesday.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government | No Comments »

Affordable Housing & the War Over Redevelopment — by Shashi Hanuman

March 10th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: The newest and bloodiest front in Sacramento’s ongoing budget battle
is around the issue of redevelopment agencies or RDAs—and whether to abolish them, at least for the time being.

In essence, RDA’s redirect local property taxes toward a variety of economic development programs. The state makes up the $$ difference for each city. This is known as “backfilling”

Given the severity of the state’s money problems, Jerry Brown wants to yank back the $5 billion that the state backfills to the various city redevelopment agencies, effectively doing away with the RDAs.

For the last month, cities have been howling that this will have a crippling effect on jobs and business and the various cities’ ability to, you know, build football stadiums.

Brown’s office has countered that, given the choice between cutting another gazillion out of the state’s already slashed educational budget, and delaying the construction of a new football stadium in Escondido or San Diego, well, dudes, the schools are going to win that little moral battle without breaking a sweat.

The RDA’s case was not helped when, this Monday, State Controller John Chiang issued a report revealing that redevelopment agencies all over California had illegally shortchanged schools by at least $40 million last year.

To make matters worse, the agencies failed to track jobs that they had supposedly created, AND with the money the RDAs were supposed to spend to improve “blighted areas,” many cities’ agencies routinely redefined “blighted” in a manner that was not altogether …..honest.

For instance Palm Desert dedicated almost $17 million in redevelopment dollars to improve a “blighted” luxury golf resort.

But like many issues, the matter of the RDAs is far more complex than the politicians and the pundits would have us believe. And by cutting the agencies wholesale, the state may end up throwing the baby out with the RDA bathwater—since about 20% of the RDA $$$ are supposed to go to build low and moderate income housing—-not freaking football stadiums.

To help us make sense of this mess, Shashi Hanuman, the Public Counsel’s directing attorney for community development, has kindly agreed to explain more about the collateral damage that vaporizing the RDAs completely will cause for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents—and what we ought to do about it.

Take it away, Shashi:

IN THE REDEVELOPMENT SLUGFEST, CALIFORNIA STILL NEEDS AFFORDABLE HOUSING

By Shashi Hanuman

The tug of war between Gov. Brown and cities over redevelopment dollars is all over the news. The Governor’s current budget eliminates redevelopment agencies, except for projects already in the pipeline.

But what’s getting lost in that debate is that if redevelopment goes away, so will millions of dollars that help build housing for Californians who are chronically homeless or on the brink of homelessness.

People like Jim (not his real name), who was homeless and suffering from drug addiction and alcoholism when he moved into Selby Hotel, which was built by nonprofit developer, A Community of Friends, and funded in part by redevelopment. At Selby, where the rent was affordable, he took advantage of the services offered to rebuild his life. Now he’s working full-time and has reconnected with his family.

Affordable housing developers like A Community of Friends count on redevelopment funds to build quality housing where people can have access to medical care and other services nearby. They’re saving taxpayers money in stop-gap services and emergency room costs, and they’re saving lives. Without redevelopment, Jim might still be homeless or living day-to-day in a Skid Row shelter.

Recently, some cities have been in the news for failing to spend money on affordable housing – or handing it out to politically connected cronies. Public Counsel has actually sued more than one city over this, and we support increased penalties and monitoring against abuses of the system. But that’s not an excuse to take away California’s only established source of affordable housing – funds that have helped hundreds of thousands of lower income families in California stabilize their lives.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and statewide housing advocates have an idea that works. It would balance the state budget, send nearly $2 billion to schools and other services and protect funding for affordable housing. Rather than completely eliminate affordable housing funds, the proposal puts a pause on those funds for this year, and maintains them for the future.

Even in a budget crisis, every Californian needs a roof over their head.

Shashi Hanuman is the directing attorney of Public Counsel’s Community Development.

Public Counsel is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit law firms. Its Community Development Project provides legal support to nonprofit developers, health clinics and other safety net nonprofits.


Posted in California budget, City Government, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Homelessness | No Comments »

The Anne Factor: Or Why Jerry Will Be Different This Time

November 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The Daily Beast has a brand new profile of soon to be California First Lady,
Anne Gust Brown, and her affect on the life and work of the governor elect. But before we get to the DB story, a few personal recollections on the same topic:



MY FIRST VERY BIG STORY AS A YOUNG AND NOT AT ALL EXPERIENCED JOURNALIST was a nationally syndicated interview/profile
I managed to wrangle with then California Governor Jerry Brown in 1976 when he was running for president as a dark horse candidate. For a few months of that year, and a few amazing primaries, it looked like he might very well have a shot at being the nominee. But it was not to be. The Democratic party leadership preferred someone a bit more…um….controllable and Jerry’s style campaign played better in the east and the west than it did in the deep south.

During my reporting for that story, I followed Brown around through a variety of circumstances and I remember in particular one late night in the governor’s office when staff and legislators were trying to get Jerry through the process of signing or not signing a large stack of bills, which was a maddeningly slow affair because Brown’s instinctive intellectual curiosity, combined with with his notoriously whimsical attention span, caused him to question things that were often really not worth questioning, given the circumstances.

As the process dragged on and on into the wee hours, I remember one politico—either a staffer or a state senator, I can’t remember now— expelling himself from EGB Jr’s office, flushed and steaming. “We gotta get this guy a wife,” growled the man for the benefit of anyone who happened to be within earshot. “We got to get this guy a wife who will kick his ass!”

In the intervening years I’ve interviewed and/or reported on, or simply chatted with Jerry Brown many, many times, and have often thought back on the rightness of that remark. Not about the ass-kicking part, but the fact that, like certain kinds of very bright people, he needed some sort of grounding person in his life, somebody who would hold on to his kite string, a counterweight to bring him to balance.

Enter Anne Gust in 1990. After first dating, and then living together, she and Brown married in 2005.

I met Anne only once, when the three of us sat together during lunch at a benefit for the California relief organization, Operation USA, and the rightness of their pairing struck me immediately.

The impression was reinforced a couple of times when I was interviewing Jerry on the phone at his home office, and he needed to pause several times to interact with his wife and the interplay spoke volumes.

One of the most charming things about his election night speech, for those of us who have watched Jerry Brown for a very long time, was the way he credited Anne for his victory and nattered on happily about how she would be California’s first lady. He gushed really. Jerry forgot to be cautious, or hyper intellectual. He was instead publicly adoring. And it was great.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: for better and occasionally for worse, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. was and still is one of the brightest people in American public life. He is also one of the canniest, politically speaking.

But common sense? In the past, sometimes not so much.

As a consequence, both as a governor and also as a presidential candidate, and even during his time in Oakland, he would occasionally give rein to creative but poorly thought out actions on a whim (more often then not with the encouragement of his longtime Pre-Gust “closest adviser,” the interesting but decidedly peculiar, Jacques Barzaghi). Some of those actions were to Brown’s—and/or our—detriment.

That’s where Anne Gust Brown comes in. She is not only extremely bright herself, she is a very savvy professional—a lawyer and businesswoman—who worked for 14 years for The Gap, first as general counsel and then Chief Administrative Officer.

She clearly gets him and in no way tries to keep Jerry from being Jerry. But, when need be, she sits down firmly on the other side of his teeter-totter. To his credit, he is grateful for it.

By the way, I think if Jerry had been settled down and married to Anne Gust when he was running for president in 1992, the year that William Jefferson Clinton became the nominee, and eventually a two term president, we might very well have had POTUS Brown.

All these years after his first two terms as governor, Jerry Brown is about to embark on his third. It will assuredly be his most difficult, given the state of the state. But with just a little bit of luck—and a lot of Anne Gust Brown—it may possibly be his best.


OKAY, NOW BACK TO THE DAILY BEAST PROFILE OF ANNE GUST BROWN , whom writer Joe Matthews calls The Most Powerful Woman in California.

It’s a definite must read. And he might be right about that most powerful woman thingy.

Here are some clips:

The conventional wisdom has hardened quickly: Californians, in rejecting Silicon Valley CEOs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, supposedly declared in last week’s elections that they don’t want corporate executives running their government.

Nonsense. California voters may have turned down the applications of Whitman and Fiorina for the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat, respectively. But in the very same election, they voted to put a female corporate executive from the Bay Area in charge of their state’s government.

The name of Anne Gust Brown, a former top lawyer and executive for The Gap, wasn’t on the ballot, but it might as well as have been. She served as de facto campaign manager for the campaign of her husband of five years, the once and now future Gov. Jerry Brown. And by all accounts, she will serve as his top aide (albeit on an unpaid basis) as he runs the government.

That’s why no one batted an eye when Governor-elect Brown suggested this week that he may not bother appointing a chief of staff. The statement only seemed to confirm that Anne Brown will be in charge, even if she doesn’t hold the title. This would be nothing new. She performed a similar role during Brown’s just-completed four-year term as California attorney general.

[SNIP]

Even Brown’s GOP opponent Meg Whitman, when asked during a debate this fall what she admired most about Brown, responded: “I really like his choice of wife. I’m a big fan of Anne Gust.”

Me too.


SPEAKING OF PROFILES….MAYOR’S CHIEF OF STAFF, JEFF CARR

In case you missed it, Tuesday’s LA Times profile of Antonio Villaraigosa’s chief of staff and former LA gang czar, Jeff Carr, by Patrick J. McDonnell is worth reading if particularly you have an interest in the ins and outs of city government.

It’s a fairly friendly profile, written in a fashion that, allows some room for criticism, but will likely alienate no one.

Still, doing the piece was a good idea, as Carr is an interesting person in the city’s landscape, and someone with an ambition to eventually move up the ladder in California’s political world, so best you get to know him.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Government, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | 34 Comments »

County Sups: $400K Death Payout, City Council: Vote on Trutanich Grand Jury

June 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



TRUTANICH’S GRAND JURY

Tuesday the City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss SB 1168, the bill that would allow City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to have his own grand jury. The bill has passed the state senate and with a trip to the state assembly still ahead.

The City Council will decide whether or not it is in favor of the bill. Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard Parks are strongly opposed, and would like the idea to be put to a vote of the residents of Los Angeles.


COUNTY SUPERVISORS EXPECTED TO VOTE $400,000 TO SETTLE JUVENILE HALL MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE/WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT

Also on Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are scheduled to vote to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents of Tremayne Cole.

The bare bones of the case, which is expected to be settled for $400,000, are as follows:

According to the county’s own report, on February 5, 2008, a short, skinny, 14-year-old boy named Tremayne Cole was placed in one of LA County’s juvenile halls, Los Padrinos. Four days later, on February 9, Tremayne complained of a bad headache, a tooth ache, and he was running a fever. Although he was given medication, he was reportedly not seen by either a doctor or a dentist until around February 17 when he had grown so sick that he was transferred to LA County-USC hospital. Tremayne died of complications of meningitis on March 4, 2008.

Tremayne’s parents allege that the adults in charge dropped the ball on their son pretty much at every step.

Posted in City Attorney, City Government, Courts, Foster Care, LA City Council, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

Following the Gang Money: Where are the City’s GRYD Evaluations?

June 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Really, all we’re asking for is a little of the much promised transparency and accountability.

It’s a season of ongoing budgetary nightmares. LA’s libraries are losing one-third of their staff. Even the city’s firefighters are taking budget hits. However one of the few programs or agencies in all of Los Angeles that has not seen its funding slashed is the city’s $26 million plus Gang Reduction and Youth Development program—or GRYD.

This is not to suggest that the city doesn’t need every penny of that GRYD money. Even after LA’s drop in crime, Los Angeles is still the gang capital the nation. Gang violence takes lives, wrecks futures, fills prisons and causes staggering levels of measurable PTSD in school-age kids who live in gang-intense neighborhoods.

In truth, $26 million is not all that much considering the gravity and complexity of the problem.

Yet the very scarcity of funds is a big part of the reason why the community at large deserves to know exactly what we’re getting for our prevention/intervention millions now that we are two years into the mayor’s GRYD strategies—which is precisely why WitnessLA and Spot.Us have hired Matt Fleischer to find out under the banner of the LA Justice Report.

Matt’s been digging up a lot very intriguing information already. (The fruits of his labors will appear later this summer.)

But, as he digs and explores, it has been a bit vexing to find that the least cooperative people have been those in the mayor’s GRYD office.

Take for example the issue of the evaluation:

As part of its mandate, GRYD has contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct an evaluation of the various GRYD programs’ for performance and efficacy—for a fee of $900,000. The gang programs were officially moved to the mayor’s office in July of ’08 and here we are in late June of 2010. Yet, thus far we can find no one outside of GRYD who has seen any part of any kind of an evaluation.

And GRYD ain’t sharing.

In fact, every time Matt asked for any information whatsoever regarding the UI evaluation city officials switched on their vague-afiers.

It was in draft form, they said, so they couldn’t give him that.

Now, granted, the evaluation is a 3-5 year project, which means that every interim report is, by definition, a “draft” until 2013 or 14 or whatever, when there will be a final report. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reports at the one year mark. Surely GRYD wants to know—and would want us to know—that they are on the right track with their $26 million worth of gang violence prevention and intervention strategies. Matt said that a draft of the evaluation would fine. Anything would be better than nothing. At this, the GRYD people remembered urgent business elsewhere and stopped replying to his requests altogether.

Just out of curiosity, I called a contact who is an insider at the LA City Council. I reasoned that since the council is responsible for approving all GRYD’s city funds, surely a well-placed person in the council offices could get some kind of interim evaluation at this point. Nope, they’d asked for it, he said. And so far, nada.

“The council gets quarterly reports,” he said, “but they don’t say much.

He reminded me that one of the selling points for moving LA’s gang dollars away from the city council and putting the money all under the single roof of the mayor’s office was to insure that the program would be more accountable and transparent than the city’s previous gang violence reduction programs had been. (cough) LA Bridges (cough, cough).

“Well, the mayor is two years into having all the money, and we’ve not seen a lot of either transparency and accountability,” he said grumpily. “They aren’t very good at collaborating either. As a result, if you as a taxpayer ask me what you’re really getting for your money, I can’t really tell you.”

Okay, we aim to change that. That’s what Matt’s reporting for WLA and Spot.Us is all about.



IMPORTANT NOTE: You can do another round of free “donations” to Matt’s investigation
for WLA the LA Justice Report by doing the following:


* going to Spot.Us

*Login/Register on Spot.Us (upper left hand side.)
* hit the EARN CREDITS button
*answer three anonymous questions about how reporters and techs might better collaborate.
*scroll down and choose the LA Justice Report when you’re prompted to select how to use your credits.
*hit the APPLY CREDITS
*Then confirm it at the prompt.

That’s it. You pay nothing, and our reporting fund gets ten bucks!

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Budget, City Government, Gangs | No Comments »

City Budget Approved With Some Resistance

May 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The Los Angeles City Council approved much of mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s
proposed budget on Monday afternoon.

Library hours were cut, day care eliminated, 761 city positions were slashed-–with a possible road back on some of the jobs if unions will approve a five percent pay cut to their employees. For the moment, however, the LAPD is guaranteed a sworn force of 9,963 officers.

Rick Orlov reports for the Daily News:

Villaraigosa also sent a somber message to the council, praising them for their efforts, but saying more needs to be done. “We can do better than the budget I originally proposed, but we cannot do it without significant structural cost-saving measures from our labor partners,” Villaraigosa said, adding he wanted to also move ahead with pension reform. Union leaders said they were not prepared to make any further reductions in their pay, saying their workers had passed on pay raises last year and for this coming year.

City officials, however, said without concessions workers will face layoffs or 16 to 26 furlough days. Rough projections show that if all city workers, including police and fire, take a 5 percent cut, the city could save $123 million. If only civilian workers take a 5 percent reduction, it would mean $63 million in savings.

Council member Tony Cardenas and Richard Alarcon managed to find away to put back into the budget money to keep Northeast Valley Animal Shelter and to replace the $1.3 million in cuts from the city’s gang intervention and prevention funding that had been marked for slashing.

However, both Antonio Villaraigosa and some of the council members
attempted to delay the vote to allow time for further union talks. Yet the majority prevailed.

The LA Times reports about the ploys to avoid taking the vote:

Opponents of the cuts tried to circumvent the vote by adjourning the meeting ahead of schedule. That proposal failed on a 9-6 vote. Alarcon, Huizar, Hahn, Wesson and council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian voted in favor of adjournment.

David Zahniser and Phil Willon have more.

Posted in City Budget, City Government, Gangs | 1 Comment »

Friday Fresh Picks – Bail, Parole, Students, Hope & More

April 2nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Fresh-Picks-watering-can

REVISITING THAT MILLION $ BAIL FOR THE SUPERGRAPHIC OUTLAW

If you’ll remember, last month, I objected mightily to the one million in bail that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich requested and got for supergraphic super-scofflaw, Kayvan Setareh, but then I began to wonder if the matter wasn’t a bit more complicated than I’d hastily portrayed.

Neon Tommy reporter Chris Pisar looked more deeply into the issue and came up with a well-balanced report that informs you—then allows you to make up your own mind.

Here’s a clip from the heart of the story:

…That leads us to the real question at hand: does the $1 million dollar bail set by Judge Escobedo fit the crime and circumstances or is it excessive?

When asked if the bail fir the crime, Laurie Levenson, law professor at Loyola Law School, had this to say:

“Of course no, that bail is high even for murder,” said Levenson.
“That was off the charts.”

But how exactly does a judge determine what the bail amount should be?

The state starts with a bail schedule that outlines what the bail amount should be for a particular crime, said Patricia Kelly of Los Angeles County Superior Court Media Relations. There is also a committee that makes a recommendation to the district attorney or whoever the prosecutor is.

The key is that it’s only a recommendation, not a cut-and-dried figure.

In order to better understand the open interpretation of bail amounts, we first need to take a look at California Penal Code 1275(a), which outlines four main criteria for setting, reducing, or denying bail: the protection of the public, the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of his or her appearing at trial or hearing of the case, with public safety being the top concern.

Seeing as how Setareh was booked on three misdemeanor counts all but rules out the probability of his bail being set so high due to the “seriousness of the crime.”

The same goes for Setareh’s potential as a flight risk. As a prominent businessman facing only a few misdemeanor charges, the risk does not outweigh the reward.

So what about Setareh’s criminal history?

Setareh has been arrested four different times in the last 15 years, including his most recent arrest on February 26, but has only been convicted of one count, according to Los Angeles Superior Court documents.

That was a misdemeanor conviction back in July of 2002, in which Setareh was arrested for failure to comply with city regulation on graphic ads. He was charged with two similar counts in December of last year but the charges were dismissed.

While he does have a criminal history, it is hardly enough to warrant such a lofty bail.

That leaves us with the issue of public safety….

And public safety is a crucial point. Read on.


JUSTICE 4 JUSTICE

I’ll have a follow-up to this story next week, but in the meantime, Neon Tommy’s Kevin Grant has this very good report on the anger, confusion and upset that was felt by students at the under-enrolled Green Dot charter, Animo Justice, after they learned that their school was being shut down.

(LAT Howard Bloom’s back story on the issue is here.)

Here’s a clip from Kevin’s story:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in City Attorney, City Government, crime and punishment, Education | 3 Comments »

LA City Council Says Yes to Medical Marijuana

November 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

weed-plants

After a meeting that lasted seveTuesday, the LA City Council decided to act sensibly by voting to allow retail dispensaries
to continue selling medical marijuana. According to John Hoeffel of the LA Times, the Los Angeles City Council is also strongly considering a draft ordinance that may cap the number of shops in the city between 70 and 200.

The CC did not not shy away from going head to head with LA’s city attorney, Carmen Trutanich, over the regulations and the interpretation of the law.

Here’s more from Hoeffel.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley had pressed the council to explicitly ban the sale of marijuana, saying that the state’s medical marijuana laws do not allow it and citing several recent court decisions to back up their argument.

The contentious issue snarled the council’s efforts to develop an ordinance, with members caught for months between their desire to provide access to marijuana for patients who need it and their reluctance to reject the advice of their own attorney.

But the council stripped out language that would bar sales and replaced it with a provision that would allow “cash contributions, reimbursements and compensations” for actual expenses, as long as they comply with state law. The law has been interpreted differently by medical marijuana advocates and law enforcement officials….

There’s more.

Sanity prevails.

PS: It is interesting to see where City Council member Dennis Zine was on the issue in this interview two and a half years ago, when the city was planning to settle on regulations immanently.

Posted in City Government, Medical Marijuana | 6 Comments »

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