Urban League Construction Job Training Saturday

Los Angeles is experiencing a construction boom not seen since the post war days, when enormous swaths of its landscape were razed to make way for freeways. Today, there are 12 rail lines, 15 highway projects and 2,000 bus lines either in the planning stages or under development that hopefully will ease congestion and pollution in Los Angeles County.

These rail lines not only will transport people, they also will serve as economic engines, bringing thousands of jobs to the region. But working in construction takes skills and that is where the Los Angeles Urban League’s Construction Careers Information Center comes into play.

The Careers Information Center will offer advice, guidance, skill development and services to anyone seeking employment in the construction industry.  There will also be opportunities to meet with the construction companies and builders that will be hiring.

The kickoff event begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 22, at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Macy’s Bridge. There will be presentations every hour as well as information booths from Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors, Los Angeles World Airports, the Los Angeles/Orange County Building & Construction Trades Council, Turner Construction, Balfour Beatty Construction, LAUSD/We Build, The City of Los Angeles, PV Jobs and many others.

“Public spending in Los Angeles is about to reach historic levels,” said Nolan Rollins, chief executive of the Los Angeles Urban League. “If we are to ensure the economic stability of our great city we must be intentional about putting our people to work on our projects.”

The Crenshaw-to-LAX rail line alone, which is scheduled to begin construction this year, will span 8.5 miles from South Los Angeles to the airport. The $2 billion-project is projected to be a powerful economic catalyst for the Crenshaw corridor, attracting investment and business development once the Crenshaw line is built.

“This is an opportunity that cannot be missed,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “These jobs have longevity, benefits and possibilities for future employment. I look forward to seeing many Los Angeles residents working on the front lines of these exciting new construction projects.”

Slauson Residents See Rail to River Vision

Residents from Slauson, Windsor Hills and the surrounding neighborhoods recently gathered at Los Angeles Academy Middle School to see what transforming old blighted railroads in South Los Angeles into a bike path, walkway and green space would look like.

“From what I can see of the vision, it looks like it could be a good thing for South Los Angeles,” said Lynda Wilson, a Windsor Hills resident who frequently treks her bicycle across town because she is unable to find a safe bike path in her neighborhood. “I can see biking from Western and Slauson and taking that eight mile ride to the river.”

A 8.5-mile greenbelt with walkways and bike lanes, dubbed Rail to River, may be headed to the heart of South Los Angeles. The trail, being called Rail to River, would begin near the future light rail station in Inglewood and end just north of Washington Boulevard near the Los Angeles River.
The once bustling manufacturing corridor with train access fell into disrepair after years of disuse, and in the early 1990’s Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority purchased the abandoned land along the tracks starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. The railway remained unused and desolate for many years. But last year, Los Angeles County Supervisors and Metro Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina asked Metro to explore the possibility of transforming the blighted area into a greenway for pedestrians and cyclists.

This was the second in a series of community meetings hosted by Metro to encourage community feedback on the project. Residents, including Wilson, poured over draft concepts presented on poster board to help visualize the possibilities for the landscape. The images included walking and cycling paths, landscaping and lighting designed to make it a healthy and safe environment.

IMAGE: Initial design concept for discussion purposes only. Image provided courtesy of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The study, which was initiated last July at the request of Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Molina, will result in a report to the Metro Board in September 2014.

“What will be the economic impact to the neighborhood?” asked Wilson at the community meeting.

Rail to River is part of a larger plan by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to revitalize the neighborhoods and businesses surrounding Slauson Avenue. Residents who live around the proposed Rail to River project have long waited to give the area a facelift. Responding to the concerns, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas spearheaded the Slauson Corridor Revitalization Project, an undertaking aimed at making the area more pedestrian friendly and an attractive destination for local merchants and community residents. Community members have been working closely with the supervisor’s office to shape the future of the Slauson Corridor. To help local businesses, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office arranged grant funds for property owners along Slauson to enhance building facades and storefronts.

“We must continue to raise the standard in our community,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “And we think Rail to River has the potential to improve the quality of life along the Slauson corridor. But we need your input.”

How do you see the vision for Rail to River? How would the project impact you?

St. John’s Workers to Receive Living Wage

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center has seen a sharp increase in the number of uninsured patients visiting their facilities. These folks, who formerly were uninsured but now, thanks to the ACA have insurance and are finally seeing a doctor. A whopping 40 percent increase in patient visits to the nonprofit health center has challenged everyone from receptionists to medical assistants to benefits counselors and outreach workers to do more work while maintaining excellent service.

So in a rare move in today’s economic climate, St. John’s Chief Executive Jim Mangia, noting that the increased amount of work lead to greater compensation for his employees, has raised their salaries from $12 to $15 an hour, placing the nonprofit squarely in the forefront of the local and national battle to raise the minimum wage.

“The cost for these raises to St. John’s will be significant,” said Mangia. “But we felt strongly as a social justice and health care organization that it was our obligation to raise the living standard for healthcare workers locally and nationwide. We are standing up and throwing down for the $15 wage.”

The announcement, made at a news conference with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price and Bob Schoonover, president SEIU 721, pushes forward the momentum toward raising the minimum wage just as the Los Angeles City Council considers steps that would require large hotels to pay workers a living wage of $15.37 an hour.

“This commitment to provide a living wage proves that when employers and employees work together, the community is lifted. St. John’s is an employer that is leading by example – it is possible to deliver quality healthcare and also provide quality jobs,” said the Supervisor, who represents the district where many of St. John’s centers and clinics are located. “Economic health is tied to physical and mental wellbeing. This wage ensures that the workers who provide care to people that are ill, can provide that care with dignity.”

Indeed, Fabrizzio Perez, who works at St. John’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Health Center as a patient greeter, said he looks forward to the day when healthcare is affordable and available to all, and when full-time workers no longer live in poverty – having to choose between feeding their families or paying the rent.

“A living wage is transformative,” he said. “We want to live in a society where all boats rise with the tide. Our hope is that St. John’s vision spreads across Los Angeles County, the city, the state and finally the entire nation.”

Formerly Homeless Find Affordable Housing

For seven years, Irvin Dixon, 59, had been homeless in Los Angeles County.  He slept on public benches and waited in long lines for free meals.  Sal Tovar, 52, had spent nine years homeless.  He remembers taking “bird baths” in the park to stay clean.  But thanks to a collaboration among the city, county and several community groups, 56 new units that rent for about $50 a month are home to nearly 100 other residents such as Dixon and Tovar.

Addressing an audience assembled recently to mark the opening of the South Los Angeles Supportive Housing Program,  Yolanda Vera, deputy for healthcare services for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said: “This is an example of blight made right.”

The Department of Health Services Neighborhood Stabilization Project Housing development consists of 15 formerly-blighted properties.  The properties were purchased and remodeled by the City of Los Angeles Housing Department and Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles and are now operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.  The project is a collaborative partnership among the city, the county, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Home for Good and the Hilton Foundation.

The new housing is aimed to help those homeless individuals who are most in need and high users of county health resources.

“Providing housing is actually money-saving for the health system,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.  According to Dr. Katz, housing one homeless person costs between $600 to $900 per month whereas hospital time can cost $3,300 per day.  The health services department estimates that the annual cost for inpatient services for homeless patients is roughly $70 million or $30,000 per patient.

The comprehensive project includes mental health services and substance abuse treatment.  Over $12 million in newly renovated housing units were provided by the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department.  $5.4 million in rental subsidies over 10 years was provided by the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles.  $7.2 million over 10 years in health services was provided by the Los Angeles County Departments of Health Services, Mental Health and Public Health.

According to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “These new units are just the beginning of a revolutionary approach to heal through housing.”

Tovar does not forget his own recent struggles: Once a month he loads a suitcase full of cakes, bread and tortillas and takes it to a food bank to help feed less fortunate homeless people.  He feels compelled to “pay it forward.” Tovar said, “It makes me feel good because I’m able to help them out.”

File Taxes for Free at LA County Libraries

Once again it’s that time of year: whether they are sitting down to the kitchen table with pencils, papers and receipts or are assisted by tax preparers and accountants, Americans are in the final flurry of tax time.

Libraries across Los Angeles County, however, are working to ease the pain by providing a new kind of pocket(book) protector—a pilot program from the Internal Revenue Service offers free tax preparation assistance. The website www.MyFreeTaxes.com, guides the user through a step by step process for filing taxes and provides a toll-free number for personal assistance. The site is available to use for free for qualified individuals or families with a combined income of $58,000 or less in 2013. The site will be accessible from public access computers and at library catalogue computers across the county, and libraries also will be prepared with tax forms and extended computer times.

In-person assistance is also being offered at select libraries to provide free tax preparation help to people who make $52,000 or less until April 15. IRS-certified volunteers are also providing free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. The program specializes in assisting disabled taxpayers, those with low income and non-English speaking taxpayers.

Regardless of your income, you can find ways to save money while filing taxes thanks to a host of free materials, events and resources compiled by Los Angeles County Libraries. The only question that remains (hopefully) is — what will you do with your tax refund?

For more information visit the Los Angeles County Library’s Tax Information webpage.