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Forging Partnerships to Make L.A. County a World Leader in Bioscience

Seeking to unlock Los Angeles County’s potential to become a world leader in bioscience research and development, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion to forge partnerships with academic institutions and scout for land that could be developed into innovation hubs.

“What Silicon Valley created for computer technology, the County can create for biotechnology,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in his motion, which won unanimous approval. He envisioned “an innovative, thriving environment encompassing academic institutions, training centers and companies with the support of local communities.”

Board Chair Hilda Solis, who coauthored the motion, said, “With cutting-edge bioscience promising an infusion of investment and discovery, and with the Affordable Care Act more deeply rooting us in our need to offer quality medical care, it is now more important than ever to prioritize how we use our public land to support the creation of more bioscience jobs and research.”

Bioscience includes research on genes, organisms, agriculture and food processing. It can lead to innovations that cure disease, reduce world hunger, and clean the environment. Biotechnology is the fusion of bioscience and technology.

In 2014, a Battelle Memorial Institute report recommended establishing three to five innovation hubs within County-owned medical campuses, in collaboration with academic institutions and private companies. The Board, which commissioned the report, tapped the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) to craft an implementation plan.

In their motion, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis noted universities in the County produce more than 5,000 science, technology and engineering graduates every year – more than San Francisco and San Diego combined. However, the County ranks only 14th in the nation in biotechnology investment, while San Francisco and San Diego are in first and third place, respectively.

“The goal is to reverse this trend, and to make LA County synonymous with being a bioscience world leader – nothing short of that,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.


Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, flanked by LA County Health Services director Mitch Katz and LA BioMed CEO Dr. David Meyer

He added, “The benefits will come in the form of a more diversified and local economy, higher paying jobs for County residents, and more tax revenues that can be used to address the critical issues that face the County today, such as homelessness and lack of affordable housing.”

The motion directed the County’s Chief Executive Officer to provide LAEDC with information on the County’s real estate assets, particularly those within or adjacent to medical campuses such as LAC+USC Healthcare Network in Boyle Heights and Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook. They also directed the Community Development Commission to launch community outreach efforts.

Several representatives of academic institutions testified before the Board in support of the motion.

“This is a very exciting time in the bioscience/biotechnology realm, particularly for Los Angeles,” said Dr. David Carlisle, president and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Willowbrook. “From a big picture standpoint, technological advances are likely to transform healthcare outcomes and health in general in the coming decades.”

Dr. Laura Cantu, representing East Los Angeles College, added, “We have a commitment in creating new biotech training programs to support the industry that’s moving in, but more importantly continuing the commitment to train our community members to be prepared to step into employment opportunities that will be created by the bioscience industry moving into the area.”

LA BioMed’s Dr. Ruben Flores, USC’s David Galaviz, CalState LA’s Peter Hong and Zuhey Espinoza, LabLaunch’s Llewellyn Cox, Logan Research’s Suave Lobodzinski, LA Bioscience Hub’s Cecilia Estolano also testified.

Los Angeles is already looking at creating its first biotech hub at the campus of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, next to LA BioMed Research Center, which recently announced plans to open a Pulmonary and Cardiac Rehabilitation Program to serve patients in South LA and the South Bay. The 8-12 week program includes walking, cycling and strength exercises, as well as nutrition education, counseling, and more – all of which can decrease emergency room visits, hospitalizations and readmissions, reducing healthcare costs considerably.

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Officials of BioTech Connection LA, CalState LA, Charles R. Drew University, East LA College, LA BioMed, LabLaunch, Logan Research, USC and LA Bioscience Hub stand together in support of biotech expansion in Los Angeles.

Taking Leimert Park Village to the Next Level

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.38.35 PMCommunity development experts commissioned by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas unveiled their final recommendations for taking advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalize Leimert Park Village, one of the historic centers of African American art and culture in Los Angeles County.

The 1.19-square mile neighborhood just west of Exposition Park  is poised for a surge in new investment and economic development as a stop on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, slated for completion in 2019.

“I believe the train can be a tool for taking Leimert Park Village to a whole new level,” he said during a keynote speech at Transit Oriented Los Angeles 2015: Investing in Vibrant Communities.

“If developed right, sites along the Crenshaw/LAX Line truly have the potential to transform surrounding communities,” he added. “With open-mindedness and progressive thinking, we would be able not only to ease traffic congestion but to revitalize the economic fabric of these neighborhoods.”

It was on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in 2013 that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to build an underground station at Leimert Park Village. He later tapped the Urban Land Institute, one of the nation’s most respected sources of objective information on urban planning, growth and development, to assemble a Technical Assistance Panel that would craft criteria and recommendations to guide investment in the community.

In its final report, ULI concluded “Leimert Park Village has all the key ingredients in place — an engaged community, strong political leadership, and an authentic and uniquely built environment — to enhance its prominence and prosperity while also protecting its cultural integrity.”

Among their key recommendations were:

  • making improvements to Leimert Plaza Park and completing renovations to the landmark Vision Theater, so both can serve as anchors for cultural programming that would draw both residents and visitors;
  • filling empty storefronts and surface parking lots along Degnan Boulevard with retail, dining, and cultural amenities, as well as housing intended for local artists; and
  • integrating art into public spaces and making streetscape improvements such as adding bike lanes, lighting, and a paseo similar to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

ULI’s technical assistance panel included experts in real estate development and financing, land use planning and design, and economic development and marketing. They stressed their recommendations for “catalytic investment” and “urban revitalization” are “designed to enhance, not redefine, the existing character of Leimert Park Village as the cultural capital of the African American community.”

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Click Here For Full ULI Report

Creating Job Opportunities for Veterans and Their Spouses

The Board of Supervisors has adopted a new hiring policy that opens up thousands of job opportunities for military veterans and their spouses at Los Angeles County construction projects.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich, the Board approved a Local Worker Hiring Program policy that sets aside a portion of the labor on construction projects for veterans and their spouses.

“Veterans deserve all that we can reasonably do to ensure that they can support themselves and their families,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“Our returning veterans deserve our gratitude and our assistance in transitioning to civilian employment,” added Supervisor Antonovich.

Under the policy, the County’s contractors must demonstrate a “good faith” effort to hire veterans and their spouses to complete at least 5 percent of the construction hours for projects worth less than $2.5 million, as well as for all job order contracts.

To be eligible, veterans must have received an honorable or general discharge, or retired from any branch of the Armed Forces. They must also be residents of the County.

The Board is still deciding whether to make it mandatory for the County’s contractors to employ at least some veterans and their spouses for projects valued at more than $2.5 million. It asked experts to report on the economic impact such a policy might have.

Supervisor Kuehl emphasized the new policy would benefit not only veterans but their spouses. “That’s important because it’s not always clear, especially for those veterans who have been seriously injured, whether they could be the sole providers for their families.”

Veterans have historically found it difficult to reenter the workforce after serving their country. A 2014 report from the USC School of Social Work found eight out of 10 service members leave the military without a job, and at least 40% leave without having identified permanent housing.

A 2015 report from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs found veterans have an 8 percent higher unemployment rate when compared to non-veterans. It also found more than half of veterans experience unemployment upon separation from service.

Currently, an estimated 4,300 veterans are homeless in the County.

Keith Jeffreys, executive director of the nonprofit United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance, expressed gratitude for the new policy, calling it “a spectacular effort.”

“This… creates a level playing field for veterans, and gives them a leg up to make up for time that they have lost,” he said.


Cracking Down on Wage Theft


Fairpay2Taking unprecedented action to address wage theft in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to establish a program that would receive, investigate and resolve claims of wage theft, as well as conduct education and outreach to both workers and employers.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board called for the creation of a Wage Enforcement Program amid research showing more than 600,000 wage theft violations occur in the County each week.

Wage theft occurs when a worker is paid less than the minimum wage, is denied overtime, is paid only in tips, does not receive meal and rest breaks, has illegal paycheck deductions, is coerced to work off the clock, or is misclassified as an independent contractor, intern or volunteer.

“It is imperative that Los Angeles County crack down on unscrupulous employers because wage theft is both illegal and immoral, victimizing not only workers but their families,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

“By creating a Wage Enforcement Program, the first of its kind in the County, we can help ensure that workers are paid fairly,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “It also levels the playing field for responsible employers.”

A 2014 report from the UCLA Labor Center found that, in a given week, 655,000 low-wage workers in the County experience at least one violation. County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said, in a separate report, “Although enforcement of wage theft has historically been the responsibility of State and Federal agencies, they have insufficient resources to address the problem.” With a PowerPoint presentation, the CEO made the case that the County has regulatory tools for wage enforcement.  

In their motion, Supervisors Solis and Ridley-Thomas said, “it is clear that existing enforcement  mechanisms are insufficient and that the County must follow the lead of the ten other local governments within California that have created their own wage theft enforcement mechanism.”

The motion designated the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs as the entity responsible for enforcing the County’s Minimum Wage Ordinance, and also called for the immediate implementation of the Wage Enforcement Program.

Supervisor Solis noted victims of wage theft are disproportionately immigrants, women and people of color.

 “Immigrants suffer minimum wage violations at twice the rate of their native-born counterparts. African-Americans suffer wage theft at twice the rate of their white counterparts. More than 50 percent of immigrant Latinas in the County earn less than the minimum wage,” said Supervisor Solis. “Enforcement is key to stopping this crime and helping many of our County residents.”

LA County Hosts First-Ever Hack Day

Los Angeles County hosted its first hack day aimed at engaging, educating, and empowering boys and girls of color to break into the field of Information Technology. South LA Hack Day, was held Saturday, October 24 at the Lennox Library and Constituent Services Center, and coincided with Open Data Week.

“South LA Hack Day encourages innovation by introducing young coders to develop software applications,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This kind of outreach will help keep Los Angeles County on the cutting edge of technology.”

HackDayTechnology giants Microsoft, IDEO, CGI and NeoGov led a series of workshops for about 100 youth ages 16-25 about such topics as turning an idea into a product, developing software applications, and launching a career in Information Technology.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who played a crucial role in making vast troves of County data and records public through the creation of the user-friendly website, hosted the event. He will be joined by representatives from the County’s Department of Human Resources, Public Library, and Office of the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, as well as community partners Girl Code LA, Urban Teens Exploring Technology, and Digital LA.

Microsoft led a workshop about mining open data to create software applications, and ZeneHome founder Chris Shafer was among the speakers. A recent graduate of the University of Southern California, Shafer used property data provided by the County to create a real estate web application that helps to educate home owners, brings transparency to the home ownership experience, and optimizes financing options.

“We are heavily utilizing the information provided via the open data initiative to fulfill our mission,” Shafer said. “We are very thankful for this public data.”

Also leading a workshop was IDEO, a design firm whose innovations include Apple’s first mouse and whose next project is updating the County’s voting system. At South LA Hack Day, IDEO asked the junior computer scientists for feedback on how to make voting more accessible to the younger generation. Their input will be integrated into the new voting system.

In a separate workshop, the County Department of Human Resources, NeoGov and CGI  discussed opportunities for launching a young coder’s career in the field of Information Technology. NeoGov is an on-demand human resources company designing software for the public sector. CGI is among the leading independent Information Technology and business services firms in the world.

South LA Hack Day also coincided with Girls Empowerment Month throughout the County, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas conducted significant outreach to bridge the digital divide. Women represent only 6% of corporate Chief Information Officers but at the event, girls and young women almost half of those registered to participate.

Los Angeles native Dez White is one of the youngest female African-American tech entrepreneurs to invent and launch a suite of apps with her company, Invisible Text. She also founded Girl Code LA, a community partner for Saturday’s event, as way to mentor girl coders.

“I think young women don’t even realize computer sciences are an option,” White said. “I was intimidated at first, and now I’m in love with technology.” White shared her success story with young coders on Saturday.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long been a leader in advancing the county’s Information Technology systems and his accomplishments include:

“The future of our county depends on the digital literacy of its residents,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Bridging the digital divide with diversity will allow Los Angeles County to play a pivotal role as a tech leader in the years ahead.”