Magnolia Housing Program Offers Second Chances

All photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

A newly opened supportive housing project in the heart of Koreatown offers men exiting the criminal justice system a real chance at turning their lives around.

Far too often, people coming out of jail face an uphill battle finding a job, a place to live, or both. With the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s (ARC) Magnolia Housing Program, 22 men who recently emerged from the Division of Juvenile Justice or prison now have keys to their new home, as well as an opportunity to receive job training with guaranteed apprenticeships in the building and construction trades.

ARC Founder Scott Budnick and Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas welcome a tenant to the Magnolia Housing Program

“Today, we celebrate the Magnolia Housing Program, a perfect blend of innovation and common sense,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Successful reintegration after a period of incarceration is not easy, but organizations like ARC are helping those who made a mistake, paid their dues and are trying to get back on their feet.”

“We look forward to bright futures for each tenant entering these doors,” he added.

One resident is already enrolled in the Metro Rail Mechanics program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Another just joined the plumbers union and is working full time. All of the current residents are working and 85 percent are enrolled in school.

ARC founder and president Scott Budnick said, “Offering stable housing, pathways to employment, mentorship and counseling services instills hope for deserving young men and women and ultimately creates safer and healthier communities.”

Founded in 2013, ARC provides a supportive network and reentry services to formerly incarcerated individuals, and advocates for fair and just policies in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Magnolia Housing Program is modeled after ARC’s Bromont Housing Program, which saw 76 percent of its participants employed after their second year of residence, and a recidivism rate of only 6 percent.

At Magnolia, 22 men will live in a newly renovated house, with mentorship on-site. Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the LA County Federation of Labor created a first-of-its-kind training program that will help them secure lasting career opportunities. Other members of the collaborative include the LA County Probation Department and the LA/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

“The Magnolia Housing Program is an ‘uncommon common sense’ approach to fighting recidivism,” said grateful resident Steven Parker. “It’s been an awesome experience,” said Emiliano Lopez, another Magnolia resident. “I get to share space with a lot of people who are enthusiastic and want to better their lives.”

In addition to supporting the Magnolia Housing Program, Los Angeles County is committed to doing more to help provide second chances to those who have already paid their debt to society. Chairman Ridley-Thomas, in collaboration with Supervisor Hilda Solis, plans to present a motion July 11 to establish a comprehensive Fair Chance Ordinance. If passed, it will create an outreach campaign and enhance training and curriculum for populations that have been excluded from the workforce, including those with felony convictions.

Pot’s legal – what happens next? 

By Mark Ridley-Thomas

California is only months away from offering thousands of retailers a license to sell recreational marijuana to people ages 21 or older. It is the will of the voters, yet I remain concerned about the impact that recreational/non-medical cannabis commerce could have on the health and safety of neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County. I wonder how this “brave new world” will make circumstances, conditions, even life itself better. Currently, all commercial cannabis is banned in the unincorporated areas of the county, and if it were up to me, I’d keep it that way until I felt confident that safeguards were in place to protect our communities.

As things stand, it is imperative that the Board of Supervisors enacts responsible regulation and effective oversight, developed with input from a wide range of stakeholders, to ensure that creating a commercial market for marijuana would not lead to overly negative consequences. We have a responsibility to serve all 10 million residents of the county — not just the voters who said yes to Proposition 64 — particularly minors who don’t have the right to vote but certainly deserve our protection.

Our track record has been less than stellar in getting a handle on establishments that sell dependence-inducing substances. Liquor stores are a common sight in many parts of the county, and bear at least part of the blame for higher rates of addiction, blight, petty and violent crime and diminished opportunities for residents in the immediate vicinity. Because unfettered cannabis commerce can compound those problems and sabotage economic revitalization, we should learn from Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize recreational marijuana (in 2012).

According to its Department of Revenue, Colorado raked in almost $200 million in taxes in 2016 as marijuana sales hit $1.3 billion. But its Department of Public Health and Environment reported that 6% of pregnant women used marijuana, potentially endangering their unborn children’s health. At least 16,000 children were at risk of being exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke at home.

Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment also found that 1 in 4 adults age 18 to 25 used marijuana in the last month, and 1 in 8 adults used marijuana daily or near daily. It also reported that more than 5% of high school students used marijuana daily or near daily. Weekly cannabis use at such a young age is associated with impaired learning and memory and could lead to psychotic symptoms in adulthood.

In Washington, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 17% of fatal crashes in 2014 involved drivers who had recently used marijuana, more than double the percentage before legalization.

Though the perils hysterically alleged in “Reefer Madness” have long been debunked, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has found that early and regular marijuana use is associated with use of other illicit drugs, including cocaine, hallucinogens, prescription opioids and heroin.

Moreover, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that Los Angeles County fatal crashes involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana began to go up after 1996, increased 360% from 2003 to 2004, maintained an upward trajectory until 2008 before decreasing in 2009, and steadily rose again by 60% from 2010 to 2014. The increases coincided with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, which legalized medical marijuana; the initiation of the Medical Marijuana ID Card Program; and the decriminalization of possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana, making it an infraction instead of a misdemeanor.

Los Angeles County’s Office of Cannabis Management is working closely with the Board of Supervisors, various departments and a broad array of stakeholders to develop comprehensive and reasonable ordinances and policies for both medical and recreational marijuana. One of the goals is to create an accountable and safe marketplace for the responsible use of marijuana rather than revel in overstated economic opportunity. Let’s be clear that gangs and cartels operate outside regulation, and dismantling this illegal market operating within saturated communities will be daunting.

Though dispensaries tend to be concentrated in low-income neighborhoods of color, less than 1% are owned by people of color, according to the L.A. County Department of Regional Planning. Apparently, racial and economic discrimination does not stop at the doorstep of the cannabis industry.

Proposition 64 proponents say it will generate tax revenue, business profit and jobs. They also claim that it would improve criminal justice by putting fewer people — historically people of color — in jail for smoking a joint. However, that remains to be seen as disparate treatment is a defining feature of law enforcement in too many communities in L.A. County.

A call for effective oversight should not be misconstrued as an attempt to thwart the will of the people, or to wage a new war on drugs. Instead, as a “card-carrying progressive” I consider it due diligence to ensure that the proliferating sale of marijuana, a mind-altering substance, will not wreak havoc on our neighborhoods, particularly those already beset with many other challenges. We certainly don’t want to make matters worse, and, right now, my concern is that commercial cannabis has the potential to do just that.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and represents the 2nd Supervisorial District.

Click here to read the Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times.

The Force is On Its Way to Exposition Park

(Left to Right) Melody Hobson, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, George Lucas Martin Zamora / Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

(Left to Right) Mellody Hobson, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, George Lucas
Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The force is with Los Angeles as the Lucas Museum for Narrative Art moves one step closer to making a $1.5 billion dream a reality.  The City Council voted unanimously to approve an environmental study allowing the museum’s construction to begin.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas joined city leaders and young children from the EXPO Center on the  on the steps of City Hall to greet George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson.

“The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is a natural addition to the Exposition Park, the historical center of education, culture and sports for Los Angeles County,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be a one-of-a-kind gathering place to experience art and exhibitions dedicated to the power of storytelling across all media, including paintings, illustrations and moving images. The Lucas family will fully fund the Museum’s $1.2 billion construction, collection, and operating endowment with no cost to taxpayers to build the Museum.

_5MZ0590“The goal of the museum is to inspire people to think outside of the box and help build on the myths that hold our communities together,” said George Lucas.

The new museum is expected to create more than 3,660 construction-related jobs and more than 400 full-time jobs related to the operation of the Museum.  The construction jobs will pay family-supporting wages for local residents due to the Project Labor Agreement with the construction unions. The Museum will be located in Exposition Park along Vermont Boulevard bordering Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Jessie Brewer Park transforming 11 acres of asphalt into public green park and garden space with the Museum hovering above.

“There’s no better place than Los Angeles,” said Mellody Hobson. “We have world-class neighbors and world-class institutions in Exposition Park.”

The Museum will be located in the heart of the South Los Angeles surrounded by more than 100 K-12 schools. The Museum will feature public lectures and classes for all ages, hands-on workshops, after-school programs and camps, and a wide variety of additional educational opportunities.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted last November to issue a resolution declaring Exposition Park as the ideal location for the Lucas Museum.

The Museum is expected to break ground as early as this year and open its doors in 2021.





Stellar Credit Ratings Lead to Millions in Taxpayer Savings


Saving taxpayers millions of dollars in interest payments, Los Angeles County achieved its highest long-term credit ratings in a decade, thanks to an upgrade by Moody’s this week.

Moody’s joined Fitch and S&P, the Big Three credit rating agencies, in deeming the County to be very creditworthy and unlikely to default on its financial obligations. In upgrading the County’s rating from Aa2 to Aa1, Moody’s cited its “strong and stable financial position” and “strong management team that has positioned the County well to address ongoing challenges,” among other factors.

Treasurer and Tax Collector Joseph Kelly estimates every upgrade in the County’s long-term credit rating can slash interest and debt service payments on a $100 million loan by as much as $3 million over a 30-year period.

The Big Three also assigned the highest short-term rating to the County’s $800 million Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN) issuance, which will finance current operations before tax revenues are received.

“Excellent credit ratings mean lower interest payments, saving the County millions of dollars that can instead be used to pay for critically needed public services,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It also validates the County’s prudent, disciplined and conservative fiscal management with long-term strategic planning over the last several years.”

The credit ratings upgrade came after Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas, along with the County’s Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai, Auditor-Controller John Naimo, and Treasurer and Tax Collector Joseph Kelly met with representatives of the Big Three in New York late last month. Health Agency Director Mitch Katz, M.D. participated by teleconference.

They discussed the County’s efforts to build reserves, pre-fund long-term liabilities, and stabilize the Department of Health Services during a time of uncertainty over the fate of the Affordable Care Act. They also noted the County successfully went to voters seeking ongoing revenue for combatting homeless, which constitutes a threat to the solvency of the County with respect to the drain on resources associated with law enforcement and emergency health services.

The County, which has a budget of approximately $30 billion, has a track record of fiscally responsible practices, which allowed it to weather the Great Recession without substantial service cutbacks or any layoffs.

Impact of Cannabis Businesses

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas at June 6, 2017 meeting. Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas issued the following statement regarding an ordinance prohibiting all cannabis businesses and activities in the unincorporated areas of the County. The ordinance also imposes reasonable regulations on personal cannabis cultivation while businesses are further studied for potential regulation.

Many of us here face a great task — that of implementing Prop. 64. The ban does not mean that we are reinstating the war on drugs or that we are opposing the vote of the people. We are trying to create rational, responsible, and accountable cannabis commerce. This is not a gold rush for businesses. It is the people of California calling for smart, responsible regulation of marijuana, and those who operate illegally are in direct opposition to this call for accountability, transparency, and responsibility.

This is particularly salient in the 2nd district, where both alcohol and marijuana businesses have operated irresponsibly for years, wreaking havoc on not only the quality of the neighborhoods, but the health and safety of our residents. We know this given our failed efforts to date to control the sale of cannabis in County unincorporated communities, which has been illegal since 2010. We also know this given our efforts to regulate alcohol sales with its well documented history of causing blight and increased crime in our disadvantaged communities.

The Board recognized the necessity of establishing enhanced standards of conduct for liquor stores with the recent adoption of the “Deemed Approved” Ordinance for pre-1992 liquor licenses. We can expect that the sale of cannabis will have comparable impact including increased crime, addiction and private sector disinvestment in neighborhood-serving commercial corridors.

And unlike alcohol, cannabis remains illegal under federal law, which adds to the difficulty of effectively regulating the business. There can be no doubt that businesses that operate outside the legal banking system and federal law and taxation regulations are particularly vulnerable to infiltration by organized crime and gangs.

The County needs to establish guidelines and regulations for the cannabis industry to minimize these anticipated negative impacts. We need rules focused on creating responsible and accountable cannabis commerce. Equally important, we cannot ignore the public safety and public health issues associated with cannabis. We can expect that the issues we confront as we move forward will be unique and more profound than has been the experience in other jurisdictions.

Likewise, we regulate personal cultivation, to the extent allowed by the law, because one’s right and choice to use marijuana does not negate their obligation to be a good neighbor. These are psychoactive substances with a pervasive odor that must be grown and kept in a responsible manner.

Los Angeles is not Denver or Seattle. The problems we face are far more dynamic and impactful, requiring a sustained investment of time and resources. We should look to the industry to provide the resources the County will need to address the impacts from the cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis in those communities that allow it. The County must prepare itself, not just as it pertains to land use regulations, but in addressing the public health impacts on our youth and vulnerable populations, and with the increased resources that will be required to address the foreseeable demands places on public safety resources.

Legalization of cannabis in California will have a disproportional impact on low income communities and communities of color. We cannot let businesses profit off of these communities until we can effectively minimize these negative effects and regulate these businesses for the benefit of these neighborhoods.