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CDCR to Hire Staff to Speed Up Internal Investigations, Sen. Leland Yee Update, Baca’s Q&A with Loyola Marymount Students, and Todd Rogers’ “Reno 911!” Ads

March 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will be hiring more employees to the Office of Internal Affairs to help expedite prison staff misconduct investigations, according to CDCR spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. Among other changes, the CDCR will also require wardens to refer cases of alleged misconduct to the OIA within 45 days.

The reforms come in the wake of a lengthy 341-page semi-annual report by the California Office of the Inspector General highlighting issues within the prison system.

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

The changes come as a state inspector general released a two-volume, 341-page report criticizing the department for often failing to meet interim deadlines for investigating and disciplining cases of employee wrongdoing, including smuggling of cellphones and drugs, and having sexual contact with inmates. The report covers incidents between July and December 2013.

Hoffman said the department is drafting a new policy requiring wardens to refer cases for investigation within 45 days, fixing what the inspector general called “a heretofore neglected policy gap.” She could not immediately say how many more employees will be hired to fill vacant positions in the department’s Office of Internal Affairs to help reduce backlogs and delays.

She and the inspector general said their disagreement on the department’s handling of employee dishonesty cases involves a small but significant proportion of all allegations against employees. The department agreed to have supervisors review dishonesty allegations if there is a dispute with the inspector general’s office over whether formal disciplinary charges should be filed.


If you missed it on Wednesday, California Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was arrested in an FBI corruption sting for alleged gun trafficking in exchange for donations to his campaign for California Secretary of State.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has a roundup of eight of the weirdest things in the affidavit against Yee, his associate Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and twenty-four others picked up in the sting. Here are the first four highlights:

Yee allegedly offers to connect the FBI’s undercover operative (who claims to be in an East Coast mafia family) with a weapons dealer. The dealer claimed to have contact with Muslim dissidents in the Philippines who can sell $2 million worth of that country’s military weapons, including shoulder-mounted missile launchers. Yee’s response: “Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money.”

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow claims to be the “Dragonhead” of Chee King Tong, described as a fraternal organization that fronts for an organized crime group in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the affidavit says. Chow tells the FBI’s undercover operative that he can approve killings by group members. He’s also identified as a top player in an international organized crime group known as a triad.

Ex-con Chow and Yee’s campaign consultant Keith Jackson allegedly arranged to have a state Senate proclamation presented to Chow’s group. The cost? Just $6,800 in donations to one of Yee’s campaign committees. The ex-fugitive Chow also wanted to pay Yee to use his influence to have his bracelet monitor removed.

Yee allegedly confesses to the FBI’s undercover fake mafioso that he is unhappy in his life as a high ranking California politician, and that, at age 65, he just wants to run off and hide in the Philippines. Yee to undercover agent: “There is a part of me that wants to be just like you…Just be a free agent out there.”

Yee pulled out of the Secretary of State race, but had not yet stepped down from the Senate, as of Thursday night. His colleagues at the capitol are urging Yee to do so of his own volition, but are also preparing to vote, likely today (Friday), to suspend him with pay.

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Melanie Mason have more on the Yee scandal and its implications in Sacramento. Here’s a clip:

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has called for a Friday vote to sideline the San Francisco Democrat — with pay — if he does not leave voluntarily, action supported by the leader of the Republican minority.

Yee, arrested by the FBI in a criminal sting operation that also ensnared a notorious Bay Area gangster known as “Shrimp Boy,” abruptly ended his campaign to become California’s secretary of state in this year’s elections. But as of late Thursday, he had not quit the Senate.

“Leave,” Steinberg had said in an open plea to Yee at a news conference Wednesday. “Don’t burden your colleagues and this great institution with your troubles. Leave.”


Not one for the spotlight since he announced his retirement in January, former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca spoke with students in a rare Q&A session at Loyola Marymount about his 15 years as sheriff, and what he would do differently in hindsight.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

“What I’d do differently is … manage more,” said Baca, looking relaxed during the two-hour question-and-answer session.

The former sheriff said he’s also coming to terms with criticism over his leadership of the department, which has been mired in various scandals including an FBI investigation into inmate abuse.

“You won’t hear anyone giving me credit for much of anything, which is OK,” he said. “Did I give it my heart and soul? I didn’t leave much space for anything else but the Sheriff’s Department.”

Baca said when he looks back, he realizes he spread himself too thin and should have focused more on the inner workings of the department. Baca was known for his community outreach as well as his frequent trips abroad for various cultural and law enforcement events.

“It’s amazing how hindsight is always clearer than foresight. I think what I can be clearly faulted for is I tried to do all things for all people. That’s asking for the impossible,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the public doesn’t come first. It just means that your time comes first.”

One student asked Baca if he would have stayed on “if the scandals were not front page news.”

Baca, 71, blamed his age instead, saying that being sheriff “is definitely a younger man’s type of work.”

“People who were political professionals” told him he would have been the front-runner, but that the campaign was going to be tough. “I decided to say this is one for the future. I’m not the future,” he said.


On Thursday, all but one cast member from the comedy television show “Reno 911!” reunited to film ads for sheriff candidate Todd Rogers’ campaign.

The Daily Breeze’s Beatriz Valenzuela has the story.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Todd Rodgers’ Reno 911 campaign moment was definitely our favorite elections news of the week. In the midst of all that is at stake with this sheriff’s race, it’s nice to be able to take a break for a well-costumed injection of law enforcement humor.

Posted in CDCR, environment, prison, Sheriff Lee Baca | 40 Comments »

Who has the right to be educated in LA County Jail?…Homeboy Goes to Scotland…Gov’t Sued Over Not Protecting Endangered Species…and More

May 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Michael Garcia, who is about to turn 23 in a California state prison, was sentenced as an adult to 12 years in lock-up for his part in a gang-related crime that occurred in 2006 when he was 15. Garcia will be released in 2016, when he’s 26, at which point he is determined to reboot the trajectory of his life toward a positive—and legal—future. One important step along the way to that new life, Garcia knows, is a high school diploma.

Garcia, however, has a learning disability meaning that he does not fit well into conventional classes or instruction. Nevertheless, until he turned 22 years old, the state of California is legally required to provide him with the rest of his high school education, if he desires it, even if he’s incarcerated.

But once Garcia was moved from a juvenile facility to the LA County jail, no state or county educational agency seemed to want to be the ones to provide him with that education—although everyone seemed to cheerily agree that it was in the best interest of society, and all that good stuff, for someone to do it. The question was: who?

Joanna Lin, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, has the story about Garcia and the growing number of young, learning disabled inmates like him who are falling through a yawning gap in the special education laws, never mind that education is one of the biggest predictors when it comes to determining how well or poorly a person does when he or she gets out of prison and attempts to reenter the legal, working world.

Here’s a clip from Lin’s story:

School ended for Michael Garcia with a routine transfer from juvenile hall to adult county jail. There was no fanfare, diploma or cap and gown. He hadn’t graduated or dropped out.

He’d simply turned 18.

For the next 19 months, he was in limbo, unable to receive the high school diploma that he’ll need for most jobs and to attend college. Despite being eligible for special education under state and federal laws – Garcia has a learning disability, an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment – in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, he was a student that no one wanted to teach.

California and federal laws allow students with disabilities to receive special education services until age 22. But the laws are vague enough that deciding who should provide that education is unclear.

Garcia has spent nearly five years in legal battles trying to hold someone accountable. This year, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear Garcia’s case to determine whether an incarcerated student’s local school district – the one in which his or her parents reside – is responsible for his or her special education.

The case has implications for county inmates with disabilities and school districts across the state that could be required to send teachers into jails to instruct special education students. In L.A. County jails alone, attorneys for Garcia estimate, between 400 and 700 young adults are eligible for special education on any given day.

The court’s decision will come too late for Garcia, who is incarcerated at a state prison – a system beyond the scope of his petition. Still, said Garcia, who turns 23 in June, “it’s the least I can do.”

“I know other people are struggling to get education too but don’t have the courage to keep pushing,” he said. “I already went through that struggle. Why not keep going to help everyone else?”

NOTE: just to be clear, it is not the job of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to educate people like Garcia. It’s LAUSD and/or the state of California that is dropping the ball with young inmates with learning disabilities. (The LASD’s Education-Based Incarceration program is an entirely different kind of program.)


Father Greg Boyle and former prison lifer, James Horton (who now works for Boyle’s Homeboy Industries) were asked to visit Scotland in order to consult with local law enforcement about the uptick in crime and violence that is plaguing the country’s poorest urban areas.

Now Boyle and Horton—plus my pal, UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap—are on the ground in the land of kilts and poets, and the local media has been reporting on their peregrinations. Here’s a clip from the BBC’s coverage by Huw Williams :

Former gang member James Horton spent 12 years on death row in the US but was later cleared of a murder charge. He now works with Homeboy Industries.

“Joining a gang was like a rite of passage, and you did it because you wanted to be accepted by those in your community,” he said.

“I was drug dealer too. I was a criminal. Every opportunity that I had to do something to make some money I was most likely involved in doing that.

“You have to deal with the issue as a whole. You can tell someone ‘come join us, be with us’ but if you don’t give them no hope, or no job, then the gang will always have access to them.

“Father Greg teaches us that you can never take away a person’s hope.”


Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) said one of the biggest challenges for ex gang members and those recently out of prison was finding a meaningful job, so they could contribute economically and socially.

Father Greg Boyle and former gang member James Horton are in Glasgow working with the VRU
The VRU said Braveheart Industries, a social enterprise based on the Los Angeles experience, could improve public safety, make communities healthier and safer, and break the cycle of gang violence.

VRU director Karyn McCluskey added: “Giving people an opportunity and a job has a huge impact on their life and it has a halo effect on their family, it affects the lives of their children and their partners, and I think we can use that experience here.

“We’ve had great policing, Stephen House has driven down violence in Scotland, but the thing that really stops reoffending is giving people a positive destination and I think we can really take some of the experience from Father Greg and Homeboy Industries and use it in Scotland.”

Meetings are to be held in Glasgow, with similar sessions planned in Edinburgh and Kilmarnock later in the week, to see if the work can be replicated across Scotland.


This is one of those bureaucratic gaps that needs to be fixed immediately.

The California Report has an podcast on the topic.

Anna Challet of New America Media has still more on the issue. Here’s a clip from her story:

There are over 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system, and almost all of them are enrolled in Medicaid. Brooke Lehmann, the founder of Childworks, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., says that 80 percent of foster youth have one or more chronic medical conditions that must continue to be treated after they age out of care.

“There’s simply a cliff where they were once provided for,” she says.

To qualify for the extended coverage [to age 26], youths must have been in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday or have aged out of foster care based on their states’ age limits, and have been enrolled in Medicaid. Until now, states had an option (known as the Chafee Option), but not a mandate, to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster youths, and only until age 21. Only 33 states had adopted the Chafee Option. Now all states will be required to cover eligible youth through age 26.

But, under the extended eligibility provision, there is not currently a requirement that states must cover former foster youth who aged out of care in a different state.


The US Department of Justice, which is not exactly having a good month (what with their poorly received new habit of spying on journalists and all), is now rightfully being sued by environmental advocacy groups for their weak-kneed enforcement of protections against killing endangered species.

Julie Cart of the LA Times has the story. Hee’s a clip:

Environmental groups are taking the Justice Department to court over a policy that prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be proved that they knew they were targeting a protected animal.

Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves.

The policy stems from a Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing a wolf near Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog.

McKittrick appealed the conviction and lost, but the Justice Department nonetheless adopted a policy that became the threshold for taking on similar cases: prosecutors must prove that the individual knowingly killed a protected species.

The lawsuit charges that the policy sets a higher burden of proof than previously required, arguing, “The DOJ’s McKittrick policy is a policy that is so extreme that it amounts to a conscious and express abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility to prosecute criminal violations of the ESA as general intent crimes.”

WLA agrees

And to validate the casualness with which the feds seem to view the protection of endangered species, there is this story from early last month regarding the “mistaken” killing of a highly endangered Mexican Gray wolf by a USDA Wildlife Services employee, who said he thought he was killing a coyote.

Posted in bears and alligators, Education, environment, Foster Care, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Jail, LAUSD, wolves | 5 Comments »

Chaka Khan’s Juvenile Reentry Program, Four State Parks Are Safe for Now…and More

July 2nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


“Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan recently launched the “No Excuses National Initiative” in an effort to fight juvenile recidivism through community business mentors. The program partners with Avis Ridley-Thomas (wife of LA Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) whose program “Days of Dialogue” helps youth recently released from detention facilities reenter the work force.

You can read about No Excuses on the NC WFJA radio station website. Here’s a clip:

“In Los Angeles County, more than 60 percent of all incarcerated youth return to custody after their release,” Khan says in a statement. “These kids need our help.”

As part of the No Excuses National Initiative, local business leaders mentor youngsters upon their release from juvenile detention. A handful of businesses have stepped up to provide support, so now young people throughout Los Angeles will have an opportunity to learn basic skills that will help them land jobs and move ahead.


Four CA State parks that were expected to be shut down Sunday have gotten a reprieve, although not likely for long.

LA Times’ Chris Megerian has the story. Here’s a clip:

But the revised plan means four sites expected to close on Sunday — Benicia State Recreation Area, the California Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach and Zmudowski State Beach — will keep operating for the time being.

“We had the time over the last 24 hours to review operations and were able to determine they could stay open in the very short term, likely a few weeks,” said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Stapler said lawmakers created some breathing room by appropriating an additional $10 million in the budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday.


A Maine law student, illegally stopped by an officer for carrying a firearm, videotaped the incident and quoted his rights until he was told he was free to go.

The Police State Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a remarkable exchange that shows exactly why it pays to know your rights, a law student in Portland, Maine backed down a police officer who had stopped him for no reason other than he was carrying a gun.

After clearly stating that he did not consent to any searches or seizures, the student asked the officer what crime he had been suspected of committing.

The officer stated that he had received calls about a man carrying a gun.

“That is not illegal. Can I have my gun back and be on my way?” the student notes during the incident while filming it on his phone. “In order to stop me you have to suspect me of a crime.” the man notes.

As Maine is a traditional open carry state, it is perfectly legal and acceptable to carry a firearm openly.

Photo courtesy: Dwight McCann/Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, California budget, Civil Rights, environment, juvenile justice, Reentry | 3 Comments »

Friday Round-Up: Psychopaths, Parks Closing, Bad DA Behavior and More

June 3rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Speaking personally, I am still having a hard time believing that the state’s scheduled parks closure will truly occur, but Timothy Egan’s NY Times Op-ed brings home the mind-numbing reality that California may really shutter some of its most irreplaceable and historic sites.

For a few months, still, you can see the sunlit room where the author of “Call of the Wild” wrote his daily thousand words before noon, and walk under redwoods and wild oaks on his 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch, where he pioneered “sustainability” before anyone was pushing $20 plates of arugula with a such a claim.

It belongs to you and me — the ranch, the cottage, the pond, the stone scraps of an old winery — an inheritance that is now being dismantled. California created the state park idea with Yosemite in 1864, before it was a federal reserve; it is destroying it in 2011 with a plan to permanently close one-fourth of its parks.

Along with 69 other sites, Jack London State Historic Park will be shuttered, gates locked, and left to meth labs, garbage outlaws and assorted feral predators. Nearly 50 percent of all of California’s historic parks are on the closure list. This is not a scare tactic from the state. Parks go dark starting in September.

Even during the Great Depression, when this state had 30 million fewer people, California somehow found a way to keep its parks and heritage sites open.

The nuclear option is being executed to reach a budget cut of $22 million mandated by a failed state that is forcing lethal whacks for all, even with an improved budget forecast. That’s right, $22 million — one-fifth the price of a recent sale of a single private mansion in Los Altos….

(Meanwhile, though, the feds say that closing some of our parks may be illegal. May it be so.)


Last month we learned that there was such a thing as a Psychopath test, and that it was being administered in American prisons (California prisons included) to help determine if an inmate should ever be granted parole—a use that has horrified the test’s inventor.

With all this in mind, naturally, Ira Glass and his This American Life team figured they all oughta take the test. In this week’s show, they have the results—plus a lot more on this whole testing-for-psychopathy issue.

Listen to the show here.


As long as Jerry has a concrete plan and a solid timetable—which he seems to—he will likely get the extension.

The LA Times has the rest of the story.

PS: On the topic of the Brown v. Plata Supreme Court decision, the NY times’ Linda Greenhouse has an interesting take on the ruling and where it fist into an historical context.


Last month a federal judge slapped some stringent limitations on Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’s use of gang injunctions—an issue that is generally hard for average person to understand or care about.

But with an editorial this past weekend, the LA Times skillfully outlined the issue, and why it should matter to the rest of us. I understand that the LAT’s Sandra Hernandez was the primary author of the unsigned editorial. Brava, Sandra!

Here’s a clip:

Earlier this month, a federal judge put the brakes on Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ reckless attempt to enforce an anti-gang injunction against dozens of men and women who never had the opportunity to challenge his designation of them as gang members.

Injunctions are a unique kind of restraining order that bar gang members from engaging in certain activities, such as congregating, wearing particular clothes or going out after 10 p.m. Their goal is to reduce a gang’s ability to control the streets by putting limits on its members’ behavior — generally activities that would be legal if done by anyone else. In some cases, injunctions can be a highly effective tool in loosening a gang’s grip on a neighborhood. But because they impose harsh limits on an individual’s freedom, such restrictions must be subject to court review.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued on behalf of the alleged gang members and won. U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank put it bluntly: “In sum, their constitutional rights were violated.”

At the very least, Rackauckas’ office failed to follow the law. If prosecutors believe suspected members of a gang pose a danger to the community, they have an obligation to present evidence of that to the court before limiting people’s lawful activities. Instead, prosecutors made a unilateral determination of guilt.


The SF Chron has the story:

The market value of a stray cat with a crippling pellet wound is zero, or close to it. But for his devoted owner in Brentwood, a male tabby named Pumkin was well worth the tens of thousands of dollars it took to save his life and restore some of his mobility.

Now a state appeals court has issued a first-of-its-kind decision in California, ruling that whoever shot Pumkin can be required to pay his medical expenses.

(MY NOTE: One would think so! You mean prior to this ruling, if someone deliberately shot my cat—or very nice wolf-dog— I couldn’t sue???)

“The people that perpetrate these crimes against domesticated animals are going to have to pay,” said Kevin Kimes, whose lawsuit against his backyard neighbors was revived by the ruling. “Maybe, over time, people will start to think twice.”

Colin Hatcher, a lawyer for the neighbors, said Kimes has no evidence that they shot his cat and they’re prepared to go to trial.

Read the rest here.

Posted in ACLU, California budget, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, environment, Gangs, Must Reads | 2 Comments »

5 Monday Must Reads

April 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


In a completely incredible move that flew beneath the radar of many, and completely bypassed the interest threshold of others, Senator Jon Testor and Rep. Mike Simpson from Montana and Arizona respectively, managed to get an inconspicuous, 11 line rider on this month’s must pass budget bill, that removed the Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho. What is more, the rider forbids judicial review.

In other words, screw the science or the legality of the wolves survival, politics and special interest groups won out.

The LA Times’ Kim Murphy has a good factual story on the matter here.

But it is Friday’s NY Times editorial that best gets to the heart of the matter. Here is a clip:

As part of its budget bill, Congress approved a brief rider, 11 lines long, that removes gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The rider overturns a recent court ruling, prohibits further judicial review and cannot be good for the wolf. But the worst part is that it sets a terrible precedent — allowing Congress to decide the fate of animals on the list.

The law’s purpose is to base protections on science. Now that politics has been allowed to trump science when it comes to the gray wolf, which species will be next?

The rider’s sponsors, Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, were responding to the demands of ranchers, who sometimes lose livestock to wolves, and hunters, who complain that wolves reduce deer and elk populations.

Sadly and surprisingly, they were abetted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who declared last month that he would accept what he called a “legislative solution” to the status of the wolf in the Rocky Mountains. One Interior Department official has argued that without this concession, the rider might well have been far more radical — possibly removing wolves everywhere from protection.

There is so much emotion and disinformation on the issue of wolves in the Rockies.

It is very disappointing that Jon Testor, whom I usually like, was one of this wrong-head bill’s sponsors.


Read this painful NY Times Op Ed. It has no easy answers but contains much sorrow, anger, confusion and humanness.


It looks like the case of Albert Florence is headed to the Supreme Court this fall. The question is whether it is a violation of the 4th Amendment to automatically strip search everyone who passes into a jail cell. It’s an interesting case, and one that bears watching.

Read more at the NJ Star Ledger.


Monday the New York times begins its series called The Guantanamo files, based on the latest pile of Wikileaks—all a definite Must Read.


The California Department of Corrections took strong issue with the Sac Bee’s editorial criticizing Jerry Brown’s recently negotiated contract with the CCPOA—the prison guards union—and they make a good case.

Posted in bears and alligators, environment | 2 Comments »

Note to Self: Do Not Crash Tanker on Island Where Nat Geo Photog is Working

March 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

GOOD magazine has the story:

Can you think of a worse place to wreck an oil tanker than a beautiful, pristine island in the South Atlantic where a National Geographic photographer just happens to be on assignment shooting endangered birds?

Photographer Andrew Evans was “following a lifelong dream” photographing endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins on the remote Nightingale Islands.


Last week, while Evans was there, the MV Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, “spilling its cargo of soybeans and some 800 tons of fuel oil onto the coast.” So Evans’ assignment turned from one of glorious bird watching to documenting ecological catastrophe

Posted in environment | No Comments »

This Real-Time, L.A.-Based Radiation Monitor Says Stop Freaking Out

March 17th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

This radiation freak out reality check is courtesy of GOOD magazine. Here’s the heart of it.:

For anyone terrified that radiation from Japan is coming to cause devastation in America, something the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already called “very unlikely,” keep an eye on this real-time radiation detector courtesy of

According to EnviroReporter, the detector is located in the organization’s Santa Monica office (that’s right next to the beach, for out-of-towners) “approximately one meter off the ground in a wood-floored structure with built over crawlspace with soil foundation.”

What the detection unit is measuring is the Counts Per Minute of iodizing radiation, which EnviroReporter says is between 40 and 46 CPM for their site. Some sites have higher normal background CPM, while others are much lower. And when you’re on a plane, the CPM level can climb up to 200 for hours at a time.


Now click and look at the streaming video of the actual monitor for yourself — and best to put away your potassium iodide pills for the moment.

PS: A UCLA prof has answered reader questions over at the LA Times.

PPS: Is it just me, or is it slightly discomforting (and ironic) that the video ad that plays before the live stream kicks in is courtesy of BP Petroleum?

Posted in environment | 3 Comments »

Thinking of Japan, the Blocked California Budget and More

March 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The frightening news out of Japan cannot help but hold our attention, as heroic engineers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station continue to try to save the plant’s crippled nuclear reactors from meltdown.

But, in addition to the devastating TV news reports, please do yourself a favor and read Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s essay on her memories and reflections as the terrifying and heartbreaking news from Japan continues to unfold. It will be in Tuesday’s New York Times. Here is how it opens:

ON Aug. 9, 1945, my great-uncle was out fishing in the Pacific, far enough away from Nagasaki, Japan, that he missed the immediate impact of the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans that day. My great-aunt was in their new house outside Nagasaki; the entire family had only a few days earlier fled the city because my great-uncle feared a repeat of the bombing of Hiroshima.

I heard this story many times during my childhood. Back then, it made me feel that my great-uncle was a clever man. As an adult, I realized he was also very lucky, because cleverness alone cannot keep you safe.

For 36 hours after the earthquake and tsunami that eviscerated the east coast of Japan on Friday, I was unable to get any word from my relatives who oversee and live in our family’s Buddhist temple in Iwaki City, south of Sendai, the biggest city near the epicenter. I wondered if they too were lucky and smart.

I wanted to know, and I did not want to know. I dipped into the world of the Internet, with its videos of water raging over the farmland and crushed ferries, and then quickly backed out. Not looking at the videos kept reality at bay, because the images of the coastline do not match the Japan that I know….


Madeleine Brand had Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters on her show Monday to talk about how bleak the chances are that any Republican legislators will vote for Brown’s proposed budget.

According to Cal Buzz, it is not so much that certain moderate Republicans wouldn’t cross over party lines, as it is the fact that the California Republican Party is out-and-out threatening any Repubs who vote with the governor. Specifically, if they do the California Republican Assembly has proposed a resolution that…..

“….censures these traitorous Republicans-in-Name-Only, ask(s) for their resignation(s) from their positions within the California Republican Party, pledges to endorse and support efforts to recall them from office, and directs the California Republican Party staff, agents and officers to refuse to provide them with funding or assistance in future elections.”

Nice. That’s really putting the good of the state first. Well done, guys.


Both of these stories were linked by Kevin Roderick at LA Observed:

First there is LAPD crime analyst and fellow Bennington MFA graduate, Ellen Collett, who has written a delicious piece that appears in the Utne Reader about the art of writing a good crime report, and a South LA cop named Martinez who is her favorite practitioner.

Roderick also links to the “correction” run by the LA Weekly’s Simon Wilson pursuant to her creepy, insensitive and marginally assaultive coverage of the February Tahrir Square attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan, coverage that was criticized by a number of other women journalists, myself included.

Not only does Wilson fail to apologize (which was what was called for), but her correction, such as it is, also manages to be creepy and vaguely assaultive.

To wit:

The LA Weekly reported earlier in the day on February 15 that Logan had been raped, based on language in a press release from CBS. The CBS release said Logan had suffered a “brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.”

But did the attack constitute rape? The legal definition of rape is penetration with any object, to any extent — the most extreme form of sexual assault. Experts on legal language have since informed us that CBS’ description of the incident implies repeated rape, but the Weekly has not been able to determine what occurred. CBS declines all further comment.

Therefore, we conclude that we erroneously interpreted CBS’ report of what happened to Logan on February 11, 2011.

Gee, thanks Simone, for the graphic “legal definition.” Very helpful.

Next time you have the desire to make things better, please don’t.

The photo of Sutter Brown, the state’s official First Dog, contemplating budgetary matters with the governor, was taken by Brown political adviser, Steve Glazer.

Posted in California budget, criminal justice, environment, LAPD, literature, media, Natural Disasters | 2 Comments »

Can We Keep Our State Parks Healthy Post Prop 21′s Crash & Burn?

November 5th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, voters rejected Prop. 21, the ballot measure
that would have added $18 to most vehicle registrations and allocated that money to support California’s state parks.

And not only did the voters of California nix Prop 21, they did so by a healthy margin—with 58 percent voting NO.

So what does that mean? Nobody feels they can afford the extra 18 bucks in this economy—parks or no parks? Californians suddenly don’t care about their parks?

And whatever it meant, what can we do to preserve the health of our state’s irreplaceable wildlands?

Civil rights lawyer, Robert Garcia, head of the City Project, answers the first question with a resounding no. Garcia points out that several times over the last ten years, even in the state’s poorer communities, “voters of color and low income voters have voted to tax themselves to create parks and recreation that meet the needs of all the people..”

The “no” on 21 reflects voter rejection of “ballot box budgeting” — and the profound need for economic stimulus programs to create jobs and infrastructure for all. Parks and recreation programs must create local green jobs, and improve quality of life for all.

Okay, fine. But how do we do that?

Garcia and some of his partner groups say they have a plan that Garcia insists can help save the parks, expand park access, AND help provide green jobs—all without putting more weight on the state budget. (For more details go here.)

Garcia and company hope to meet with Gov-elect Jerry Brown sooner rather than later about the matter.

Garcia also points out that park distribution is not exactly created equal in California. [See map.]

“There are few state parks where the need is greatest. State parks are overwhelmingly located in communities that are park rich and income rich. State parks are typically not located in park poor, income poor, communities of color, where unemployment rates are highest. Lack of places for physical activity contributes to disproportionately high obesity levels.

“…the Los Angeles region has only 5.5 acres of state parks per thousand residents, compared to 34.7 acres in the San Francisco region — almost seven times more. While Los Angeles has 49% of the state’s population, San Francisco has only 19%…”

At least 700 groups supported Prop 21 says Garcia, who is a practiced champ at alliance building. With this in mind, he hopes to enlist the help of of as many of those 700 as humanly possible to “expand access to and support for state parks.”

Me and my Topanga State Park jogging trails hope that it works.

PS: SPEAKING OF JERRY BROWN....the LA Times’ Culture Monster blog has a nice little story about the still controversial “official” portrait of Brown, painted during his first gubernatorial term, by artist Don Bachardy.

PPS: I LOVE that painting, damn it, despite what the art Philistines think. It’s way better than the preposterously stuffy portraits it used to hang beside before it got stuffed away in some back room.

Now it’ll get trotted out again, and a good thing that is.

AND SPEAKING OF JERRY AGAIN….CalBuzz has a very smart rundown listing “5 Key Reasons” Jerry won—among them, they said, was the fact that he made “an asset out of his Gandalfian presence in California politics.”

Gandalfian. Well put, CalBuzzers.

Posted in elections, environment | 1 Comment »

Battling LA Histories at Father Serra Park: Who Screwed Up?

December 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The city of Los Angeles is in the process of building a brand new war memorial
named the Eugene A. Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, which is to honor all those who have won the medal.

Okay, so far so good.

As the San Jose Mercury News reports:

Crews have nearly finished the first stage of the memorial, which consists of a 30-foot long, 5-foot-high plaster wall covered with tiles bearing the names of nearly 3,500 medal recipients.

The memorial’s sponsors also plan a 20-foot high pyramidal monument paying tribute to the medal’s 40 Hispanic recipients.

A statue atop the stone structure would depict the memorial’s namesake, Marine Pfc. Eugene A. Obregon, coming to the rescue of a comrade during the Korean War. The 19-year-old Obregon died during the rescue.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, it turns out—a lot.

Civil Rights Attorney Robert Garcia, who is counsel for and president of The City Project, plans to file an injunction this morning, Friday, to stop the construction. He is joined by a list of other organizations, including the state-chartered Native American Heritage Commission and the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

According to Garcia (who rarely does not have all his legal ducks in a row), the memorial project “has not received proper legal review and approval by government agencies and the public, in violation of state and federal laws and principles, including protections for parks and the environment, historic preservation, equal justice, Native American sites, transparent government and the rule of law in a democratic society.”

Other than that, it’s fine.

Here’s the deal: For reasons that now seem profoundly illogical, the memorial is being built in the one acre grassy expanse that is Father Serra Park, which happens to be smack in the middle of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument—in other words, the site of the birthplace of the city of LA, not to mention the site of a historic village of the Gabrieleño indians, and the site of Old Chinatown, and the site of the so-called Chinatown massacre, where 19 Chinese men were killed in 1871.

Put another way, it’s a little like deciding to build a Vietnam memorial in the middle of the Alamo—if the Alamo was also the site of the Dome of the Rock. (Or something of that nature.) No one would dispute the importance of the Vietnam memorial, but that particular location ain’t where it should be.

On Saturday, the mayor and other city officials are supposed to attend a press conference unveiling the tile-covered wall, that is the first stage of the memorial project.


Garcia and company say there are plenty of other far more appropriate places to honor Medal of Honor recipients—including “the Western Gateway at the 16 acre Los Angeles National Veterans’ Park and the 115 acre Veterans’ National Cemetery on the mile long Veterans’ Parkway across from the U.S. Army Reserve Center on Wilshire Boulevard—and about five other alternative locations.

It is worth watching to see how this turns out.

Posted in Courts, environment, Los Angeles history | 18 Comments »

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