Crenshaw-to-LAX Construction Updates

Progress continues on construction of the Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line. Here are some updates:

Help is on the way to support small businesses on the corridor with the establishment of a Business Assistance Center that should be up and running this fall. The center will provide a meeting space, walk-in center and hands-on, customized assistance to business owners. In addition, door-to-door outreach will take place for businesses along the at-grade portion of construction on Crenshaw between 48th and 59th streets to let them know of available resources. Signage also has been posted along the construction corridor to showcase businesses that are open, the importance of shopping local during construction and where parking is located.

In other news, the next major location for street closures will begin Friday, September 12 through Saturday night, September 13. A long term traffic reconfiguration will be implemented on Crenshaw Boulevard to support the construction of the Leimert Park station and tunnel, where two lanes of traffic will be maintained in each direction. During the first phase of construction, a temporary work zone and fencing will be established on the west side of the street between 43rd Street and Vernon Avenue.

“It is of the utmost importance to me that we help the businesses and the community endure these months of construction,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to establish resources for local businesses impacted by the construction. “This is a project that will bring many benefits once it is completed, but we need to make sure that businesses can thrive along the way.”

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Affordable Homes in Jefferson Park Now Open

Reginald Drummer was homeless, HIV positive and living on Skid Row for four years. But finally, he found the break he needed: Mercy Housing. The nonprofit had just opened the Jefferson Park Terrace apartments on Western Avenue and so he applied for a one-bedroom unit. Four months later, Drummer is working full time as a hairstylist in Beverly Hills, his HIV-related health issues are under control and his life is no longer on a downward spiral.

Jefferson Park Terrace Apartments Dedication EventI just needed a safe, clean place to stay and rest my head,” said Drummer. “Taking a shower, cooking a meal, feeling safe…all that stuff matters. I am so grateful every day,” Drummer said to a crowd of residents and participants in a recent ribbon cutting ceremony.

The 60 permanent affordable housing units are yet another example of public, private and non-profit entities coming together to build decent homes for Los Angeles residents.

Jefferson Park Terrace Apartments Dedication Event

“Every individual has the right to live in safe, affordable and quality housing,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who secured a $3.1-million investment by the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission in the project. “It is through this combination of affordable and sustainable housing, outdoor space and community services – that we really create effective and quality community development.”

Jefferson Park Terrace offers one- to four-bedroom apartments for low income families on the corner of South Western Ave and West Jefferson Boulevard. Six units are allocated for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Residents can share outdoor community picnic, barbeque and playground areas, a computer center and meeting room. In addition, there is an on-site resident services coordinator who helps with case management, civic engagement, health and educational services as well as employment training.  In a twist tying the past to the present, the building was built with today’s highest environmental standards (certified LEED Gold) but is also designed in the Art Deco “Streamline Moderne” style to work seamlessly into the Craftsman-style neighborhood.

The project includes the rehabilitation of the original Fatburger which was established in 1947 by Ms. Lovie Yancey, known for mentoring musicians and entertainers such as Redd Foxx and Ray Charles, located adjacent to the site. The stand has been relocated to Western Avenue and 31st Street, and restored to its 1952 appearance.

Larita Thomas, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment, said she feels secure knowing that someone in the building is looking out for her. She lost her home last year and so now she regularly visits with the resident services coordinator to make sure she is on track.

“The services are great here because they work with you,” she said. “I know that what happened to me before won’t happen to me again here. I love it here.”

Here is a link to another new affordable housing development:


New MLK Mental Health Center Now Open

Jo Helen Graham’s son Mark was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 15 years old. Despite his parents’ efforts to find him ongoing treatment, little has been available to address his mental illness and he has suffered. A barroom brawl years ago landed him in prison when he was 19 – a tragic turn for a young man who desperately needed mental health intervention.

MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center

“Mark was never able to receive the proper mental health treatment that would have helped him,” Graham said speaking at the ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Mental Health Urgent Care Center on the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook.

She noted that her son is now out of prison but still suffers from mental health issues. “Jailing and warehousing our mentally ill is a human tragedy. But I am optimistic about the road ahead because of centers like this one.”

The newly refurbished two-story, 8,000-square-foot facility, which opened September 4,  is the latest milestone towards the completion of a wellness community on the MLK Medical Campus that brings preventive and emergency care services to the region.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrates the new center.

“The opening of this center is part of a broader countywide drive to expand access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment for all those in need, particularly those at risk of incarceration,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who spearheaded the effort to bring the urgent care center to the MLK campus. “Facilities like this will be most effective in promoting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.”

The center is a one-stop shop for families, individuals and law enforcement to bring a person suffering acute distress or an episode related to mental illness. Patients will receive a variety of services including psychiatric evaluation and assessment, crisis intervention, substance abuse counseling and medication support from an on-site team of experts from the county’s departments of mental health, social services, health services and public health. Adults will have a separate wing, divided by gender. Twelve to 17-year-olds will be admitted into a separate wing of the center. While there is an emphasis on serving the indigent and Medi-Cal patients, no one will be turned away.

Data has shown that nearly 50 percent of the patients in the former King/Drew Emergency Room had primary or secondary mental health issues. The Urgent Care Center provides a more cost effective and humane way to treat people with mental illness.

Although there are 15 medical professionals on staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is not a sterile, cold and clinical setting. In fact, with its wood laminate floors, soothing yellow walls, cozy sleeping chairs and clean bathrooms, in the recovery area,it is more like a nice family living room where patients can stay for up to 24 hours.

Community leaders and elected officials celebrate.

“Twenty-four hours a day, you can bring in your loved one in,” said Luana Murphy, President/CEO of Exodus Recovery and Exodus Foundation for Recovery, which will operate the center. “Services here will be integrated. After they are discharged, no one will be sent to the street. We will have a plan.”

The Urgent Care Center will play an important role in the county’s efforts to redirect mentally ill offenders away from jails, where people with untreated illnesses currently constitute a substantial portion of the population.

Terri McDonald, Assistant Sheriff, Los Angeles County Sheriff Department

Terri McDonald, Assistant Sheriff, Los Angeles County Sheriff Department

“It takes a village and mentally ill citizens are some of our most vulnerable,” said Terri McDonald, assistant sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “We can be proud of this step forward in reducing our reliance on jails to deal with our mentally ill.”

The center will be run by Exodus Foundation for Recovery, which has been providing psychiatric services in Southern California since 1989. The urgent care center brings additional medical services to the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center Campus, which already include the MLK Outpatient Center and Center for Public Health. The hospital is scheduled to open next year.

“Today, we move one step closer to the MLK Medical Campus we’ve been waiting for,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, Director of Community and Integrated Programs for the Department of Health Services, noting that the center is a model of recovery and urgent care for mental health centers throughout the region.“It is this image that makes me excited to be here today as we look forward to the services Exodus will provide with its many campus partners for years to come.”



Jobseekers Pursue Empowerment at Job Club

Sinaa Watkins, 43, is a single mother of two with a 19-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son. Currently unemployed and living with her mother, Watkins says a job would allow her to get back on her feet.

“It’s all about supporting family for me,” said Watkins at a recent Job Club in Lennox. “If you’re out there and looking for employment, this is for you,” said Watkins.

The Job Club is a bimonthly job search workshop at the new Lennox Library and Constituent Service Center. Held in the Wiseburn Conference Room, the sessions are free to all community members. The program, powered by Community Career Development, Inc. and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, offers opportunities for networking, job leads and interview techniques along with a sprinkle of hope. The workshop aims to help those who are underemployed, unemployed or starting in a new career by offering resources and employer referrals as well as job training opportunities.

“A just-trained candidate, is a just right candidate,” said Tony Jaramillo, Program Manager for Community Career Development, Inc., the non-profit, community-based organization that leads the workforce development training for jobseekers.

The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County currently hovers at 8.1 percent, exceeding the state average of 7.4 percent; it is nearly two full points above the national average of 6.2 percent according to the Employment Development Department.

The county lost 57,600 jobs in July, although 69,200 were added over the year with an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent. The jobless rate was down from 10 percent a year ago.

“Meaningful work is important because most folks are looking to sustain a living wage to raise the quality of their life here in Los Angeles,” Jaramillo said. “There is a gap in computer skills necessary to secure the higher wage jobs. There seems to be a divide between those that have the ability to be retrained and those that stand on their laurels,” Jaramillo said.

Curtis Blue, 47, from Los Angeles, is an information technology professional who has been unemployed for two years. He attended the job club for the first time to improve his interview skills and look for work.

Having been out of work for two years, Blue discussed the challenges of staying abreast of quickly changing technology.

“Technology is always changing, so not having the hands on experience is challenging. But I’ve learned that I’m not the only one struggling,” Blue said.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “Quality jobs are at the core of developing healthy communities. They improve the economy and help families function. It has been and will continue to be a priority for me to bring opportunities and to create a better quality of life for all residents of the Second District.”

The next Job Club is scheduled for 11 a.m. on September 11 in the Wiseburn Community Room at the Lennox Library and Constituent Service Center located at 4343 Lennox Blvd., Lennox, CA 90304.


Economic and Community Development Plan Moves Forward

Increasing affordable housing and expanding employment opportunities has been a longstanding priority in Los Angeles County, but the elimination of redevelopment agencies in 2011, made it difficult for the county to fund these types of projects.  But the county will soon have a new economic plan to boost jobs, business growth and affordable housing projects.

At a recent board meeting, the Board of Supervisors took a major step toward creating an economic plan for the County by setting in motion a Countywide Economic and Community Development Program. The program, championed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, aims to make it easier for small businesses and light manufacturing to operate in the county by expediting the permitting process and waiving associated fees, expanding key trade industries such as aerospace and fashion in the region and streamlining foreign trade.

The program, also calls for the development of a $100-million public/private catalytic development fund that would be used to develop affordable housing and transit oriented development projects in low-income communities.

Before they were dissolved, redevelopment agencies reinvested a portion of tax proceeds into communities to financially support economic development and affordable housing.  The development of a Countywide Economic and Community Development Program is intended to help bridge the financial gap that redevelopment agencies formally fulfilled.