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Weighing In on Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Department


A town hall meeting on a Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department.

Amid mounting concern across the country about law enforcement practices and use of force, a panel appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors met with members of the public in Exposition Park on Monday to hear their suggestions for making the Sheriff’s Department more accountable to the people it serves.

_MG_6756“The working group is committed to soliciting the broadest range of public input in fashioning its recommendations for the board,” said Vincent Harris, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ appointee to the panel tasked with recommending the powers and responsibilities of a soon-to-be-created Civilian Oversight Commission.

The town hall meeting at the supervisor’s Exposition Park district office drew about 80 people, most of whom responded with a show of hands when asked whether they would support greater civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department.

“The Civilian Oversight Commission should be able to comment, analyze, and weigh in on the Sheriff’s Department’s operations,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now, a community organization that advocates for people behind bars, as well as their families and their communities.

Skid Row community activist Jeff Page said the commission should be granted subpoena powers to ensure investigations are thorough.

“This commission has to have credibility to actually make action happen, and subpoena power is something that would make this commission viable,” he said. “That way it’s more than a token social group that can just field questions and entertain comments from the public about questionable activities by the Sheriff’s Department.”

_MG_6728The board voted in December 2014 to create a Citizen’s Oversight Commission after a blue ribbon panel called for reforms within the Sheriff’s Department.

It appointed the working group to hash out details such as the commission’s mandate, authority, and number of members. The working group scheduled nine town hall meetings across Los Angeles County in April to hear public testimony on the subject, before submitting its final recommendations to the board.

You can examine the working group’s draft recommendations and analysis, and weigh in by emailing comments to commserve@bos.lacounty.gov.


From left: Roger Granbo, Max Huntsman, Vincent Harris, Neal Tyler, Hernan Vera and Les Robbins


Bringing a Biotech Medical Park to LA County

BiotechStoryHoping to nurture talent, develop a new industry and increase medical innovation, the Board of Supervisors took a first step towards creating the first ever biotech medical park in Los Angeles County on the campus of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

The 15-acre campus will be located next to the LA BioMed Research center, a nonprofit institution with more than 60-years of successfully developing new medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals. Modern biotechnology includes research on genes, living organisms, agriculture and food processing.

When completed, the biotech campus, which is expected to house nearly 250,000 square-feet of office space, will be a public/private partnership that should generate between 800 to 900 jobs. The estimated private development cost of building the campus will likely be between $110-million and $125-million. The land, which is owned by the county and will be leased, has an estimated value of $25-million to $30-million.

“This will lay the groundwork to begin making Los Angeles a hub of biotech innovation,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion that was approved. “Now the county can begin to achieve its full potential as a leader in this industry, support new discoveries made by local researchers and attract bioscience companies to our region.”

A 2014 Battelle bioscience study, commissioned by the county, found that the bioscience industry faces significant hurdles in Los Angeles. In particular much of the research pioneered locally moves out of the county due to a lack of funding, facilities and support for new startups and early stage companies. Los Angeles falls behind the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego in venture capital, initial public offerings and fast growing biotechnology companies.

Located in the in the South Bay area adjacent Carson and Torrance, the proposed Biotech Campus is ideally situated to meet needs of bioscience companies and their high-tech work force.

In addition to creating a biotech campus, the Board of Supervisors directed the Community Development Commission in November to establish a task force to carry out the recommendations of the Battelle study including creating bioscience hubs throughout the County.


Symphonies for Schools


Credit: LA Phil

Once again, Walt Disney Concert Hall is reverberating with a different kind of music: the joyous laughter of little kids.

The world-renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra is providing a series of free concerts to about 12,000 elementary, middle and high school students from across Los Angeles County through its annual Symphonies for Schools program this April.

On Tuesday, third, fourth and fifth-graders gleefully took over the magnificent Walt Disney Concert Hall, the yellow color of their school buses standing out vividly against the downtown landmark’s stainless steel façade.

Sharlyn Williams, a teacher at Wadsworth Elementary in South Los Angeles, part of the Second District, was grateful for the opportunity to expose her students to classical music.

“I think this is a wonderful experience for inner-city schoolchildren,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to really free their minds, to envision the possibilities, to see something beyond their limited scope – it’s just awesome.”

With Dudamel Fellow Gemma New conducting, LA Phil musicians performed Sergei Prokofiev’s classic Peter and the Wolf, drawing enthusiastic applause from their young audience, most of whom had never watched a live orchestra performance before.


Credit: LA Phil

“Bravissima!” raved Edwin, a 10-year-old fourth-grader from Wadsworth who plays violin and hopes to be a conductor someday. “The show was excellent!”

Isabella, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Wadsworth, found herself mystified by the musicians’ impressive talent. “How did they do that?” she said. “It was amazing!”

The repertoire for middle and high school students will consist of Antonin Dvorak’s masterful Symphony No. 9, and four original works by the high school-age graduating class of the LA Phil’s Composer Fellowship Program.

LA Phil’s director of educational initiatives, Gretchen Nielsen, said the free concerts are so much more than entertainment.

“For elementary school kids, I think these concerts become a jumping-off point for developing their imagination and creativity, because they’re introduced to such beauty through the concert hall, the orchestra and the music that’s being performed,” Nielsen said.

“The concerts for middle school and high students were designed specifically for youth who are learning music, and are members of a band, choir or orchestra,” she added. “We want to provide the ultimate inspiration to them as they make their own journey as musicians.”

The LA Phil first began performing concerts for elementary school children almost a century ago, in 1919. The Symphonies for Schools program began in 2000, and has allowed countless students to enjoy masterpieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and many more.

Among the Second District schools to benefit from this year’s free concerts are 68th Street Elementary, Miramonte Elementary, Martin Luther King Elementary, Roosevelt Middle School, and Manual Arts High School.


Volunteers Make the Difference


Veronica Zuniga is the Second District’s Volunteer of the Year (adult category). Here, she poses with her husband at Los Angeles County’s 33rd Annual Volunteer of the Year Awards.

Veronica Zuniga coaches a softball team at Victoria Park in Carson, but she’s doing much more than showing girls how to pitch, catch and throw. She teaches them teamwork, sportsmanship and civic engagement.

Over at Ted Watkins Park, Wanya Barker is doing his own part to help the community by organizing after-school activities for youth like himself, everything from free movie screenings to baseball games.

For all the hours they spend making the Second District a better place to live in, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded each a scroll at the 33rd Annual Volunteer of the Year Awards held in April.DJA_2397

“Veronica and Wanya spend hours every week making our community better,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Their community spirit and can-do attitude is an inspiration to us all.”

Ms. Zuniga, who lives in Compton, has volunteered about 500 hours over the last six years. Twice a week, she coaches 12-14 year old girls, many of whom have never played softball before.

“I have always loved working with children and being involved with the community,” Ms. Zuniga said during a recent banquet honoring some of the county’s most exceptional volunteers. “Being a coach, as well as volunteering with Toastmasters and helping with park events, has helped keep me young and active and helps provide a safe environment for our youth to participate in wholesome activities.”

Mr. Barker, of West Athens, is the teen vice president of Ted Watkins Park’s teen club program. He has volunteered over 200 hours in the past year, helping out with free movie screenings, the Dodger Dream Field dedication, and Parks After Dark and Mark Ridley-Thomas afterschool programs.

More than 100,000 volunteers generously donated more than 4 million hours – an estimated value of $93 million – to Los Angeles County parks, hospitals, senior centers and other facilities and departments in 2014. That’s more than double the numbers from last year.

“I started volunteering because it is something I enjoy doing, plus I loved going to the park and helping the kids and being a part of the Teen Club where I made new friends,” he said. “I just want to thank Ted Watkins Park staff for helping me become a better person.”


Off Limits to Sexual Harassment

Too many Metro travelers have experienced some form of sexual harassment over the last six months, including unwanted touching, indecent exposure and/or inappropriate comments.  And so, to bring attention to the problem, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has launched a campaign against sexual harassment in the public transit system.

“Metro’s buses, trains and stations are off limits to sexual harassment,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who will take over as chairman of the Metro Board of Directors in July. “Our passengers must be kept safe, not only from hazards on the road but those on board.”


Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl and Michael Antonovich take a stand against sexual harassment in public transit


Metro partnered with Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit sexual and domestic violence prevention center, to launch It’s Off Limits, a 30-second public service announcement for television, as well as billboards and posters on buses, trains and stations.

“Perpetrators of sexual crimes often continue their assaults if they are not caught, sometimes becoming bolder and violent,” Peace Over Violence executive director Patti Giggans warned. “Reporting the crime means the assaulter can be caught before he victimizes other women and girls.”

Metro and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department set up a hotline, 1-888-950 SAFE (1-888-950-7233), and updated the smartphone app LA Metro Transit Watch to make it easy for passengers to report incidents they experience or witness during their commute.

Sheriff’s Department’s Transit Policing Chief Ronine Anda urged passengers not to remain silent about sexual harassment.

“Metro is like a moving city with about 400,000 residents on a typical weekday,” she added. “Imagine riding in a place with 400,000 pairs of eyes looking out for their neighbors and cooperating to make conditions as safe as possible.”

The Transit Watch app has a feature allowing passengers to surreptitiously take photos of a suspect without activating their smartphone’s flash. Once a report is filed, complete with a description of the suspect and details of when and where the incident happened, deputies can review footage from video cameras mounted on most buses and trains, and use those as evidence for prosecution.

“If you see it, report it. If you’re experiencing it, report it,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl urged passengers. “With your help, we can do something about this issue.”

Also present at the event were Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Metro board members Ara Najarian and Jacquelyn DuPont-Walker, and Metro interim deputy chief executive officer Stephanie Wiggins.