Environment, Parks, Libraries

24th Empowerment Congress Summit Draws 1,300

About 1,300 people participated in a meaningful dialogue about Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness at the 24th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit, and vowed to work together — as a community — in search of solutions.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas described homelessness as one of the most profound issues of our time, pointing out an estimated 44,000 people live on the streets or in temporary shelters on any given night.

“One out of every three homeless persons lives in the Second  District — over 14,000 men, women and children,” he said. “The most vulnerable — those with mental or physical disabilities, drug or alcohol addiction, women without family support — are the hardest hit.”

The summit coincides with the national observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas recalled the legacy of the legendary civil rights leader.

“Dr. King’s words implore us not to harden our hearts in despair, cynicism and bitter resignation in the face of these challenges,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “He reminds us that it is our moral imperative to learn more about the homeless problem and to challenge ourselves to creatively respond and alter the systems causing homelessness in the first place.”

Actress Pauley Perrette, a longtime advocate for the homeless and star of the world’s highest-rated TV show, NCIS, also urged help for the homeless, saying we all “share a common humanity.” Although best known for playing the role of forensic scientist Abby Sciuto, she is also an ardent social and civil activist, involved in many charitable organizations.

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NCIS actress Pauley Perrette urges help for the homeless.

Founded in 1992 by then-Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Empowerment Congress is a national model of civic engagement and forerunner of the neighborhood council movement. It is a dynamic partnership among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions and community leaders, built on the core principles of participatory democracy, reciprocal accountability, and intentional civility.

This year’s summit had the theme: Empowerment Matters: Building Stronger Communities. Speakers at the plenary session included California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Other speakers included Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Songhai Armstead, A Community of Friends CEO Dora Gallo, architect Michael Maltzan, Marquez Community Strategy founder Mercedes Marquez, and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray.

The plenary session was followed by workshops on such issues as preparing for El Niño, the relationship between law enforcement and young men of color, mass transit as a vehicle for economic development, and the state of social justice in Los Angeles.

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Supervisor Honors Columnist Sandy Banks

Sandy Banks 1 (2)Saying she “inspired, educated and entertained readers for more than three decades,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a scroll to Sandy Banks, who wrote her final column for the Los Angeles Times in December, after 36 years with the newspaper.

“Ms. Banks took us along for a journey in her 900-word columns on local and national issues, including health, education, foster care, criminal justice, politics and economic issues, and Los Angeles is all the better for it,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said during a ceremony honoring Banks at the Hall of Administration.

After receiving the scroll, Banks said, “It was a privilege to do the job. I came to see it as service.”

Banks joined the Times in 1979, and embarked on a career that included stints covering the education, religion, criminal justice and race relations beats. Aside from being as a reporter, she also served as an editorial writer, assistant metropolitan editor and director of the newspaper’s internship programs.

She was part of a team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Banks, however, is best known for her twice-weekly personal columns on the forces that shape public conversations and impact private lives.

In her final column, published December 26, 2015, she wrote, “I was the kid who asked too many questions and left no thought unexpressed. I never dreamed I could get paid for doing what came naturally.”

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Banks has three grown daughters and lives in Northridge.

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Inglewood and Los Angeles County Rejoice – Rams are Back

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas honors the city of Inglewood and Mayor James T. Butts, Jr. at Board of Supervisors Meeting on January 19, 2016.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors honored the city of Inglewood and Mayor James T. Butts, Jr. for their successful efforts to bring the NFL Rams back to Southern California after two decades. The Rams’ return to Los Angeles County will spur economic development in the city and for the entire region, creating thousands of temporary and permanent jobs.

“We’re proud of Inglewood to be the vessel that brings so much work and prosperity back to the region,” said Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, Jr.

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Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, with Inglewood Mayor James Butts

NFL owners voted overwhelmingly to let the Rams return to Los Angeles after 21 years in St. Louis, and then gave the Chargers the chance to join the Rams. If the Chargers decide to remain in San Diego, the Oakland Raiders will get the option to join the Rams instead.

The Rams are building a $2-billion dollar stadium – to be called City of Champions Stadium – near the site of the Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood over the next three years. It would be the centerpiece of a massive entertainment, retail and housing development – not to mention the largest stadium of any team in the NFL.

“The $1.8 billion, state-of-the-art sports and entertainment stadium will have a profound impact on the economy of Inglewood as well as the regional community,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.image3 (1) 

Promising to bring thousands of new construction and permanent jobs to local residents, the new stadium is but the latest example of the New Inglewood. Other notable accomplishments include:

• The complete renovation and reopening of The Forum as an internationally recognized entertainment venue operated by the Madison Square Garden Company.

• The $2 billion redevelopment of Hollywood Park into a mixed-use development with housing, open space and more than 600,000 square feet of shopping and entertainment.

• Construction of the $2 billion Crenshaw/LAX Transit line with three stations in Inglewood.

• And recently announced plans for market rate housing developments that will revitalize the City’s Market Street area to rival the Third Street Promenade.

“We know why Inglewood is known as the city of champions, because they got it done!” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The Rams are not expected to play at City of Champions Stadium until the 2019 NFL season. In the interim, they are expected to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park, home of the USC Trojans.

Last week, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher met with Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who serves as president of the Coliseum Commission, the governmental entity that oversees the Coliseum. Fisher, a former Trojan, told Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “All I need is a level field and some grass and we’re ready to play.”

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Building a Better Future with Parks

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Los Angeles County is taking stock of the parks and recreation facilities within its borders, and inviting residents to help shape a plan for upgrades and new construction going forward.

Through June 2016, the first ever Countywide Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment will gather data on existing parks, hiking trails, botanical gardens, wildlife sanctuaries and similar venues in both cities and unincorporated areas. Recreation facilities like swimming pools, gyms and skate parks will also be inventoried.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who initiated the Needs Assessment with a motion unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in early 2015, said, “We are proud of the parks and recreational facilities that have been built throughout the Second District and the rest of the County, but more are needed to uplift our communities.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I hope this Needs Assessment will unlock the possibilities for open spaces in our communities,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “It could also lay the foundation for seeking additional public and private funding to improve existing projects and to build new ones.”

The Needs Assessment process includes holding community engagement meetings to solicit suggestions from the public. Meetings are scheduled in East Rancho Dominguez, Florence Firestone, Lennox, West Athens-Westmont, West Rancho Dominguez, Willowbrook and West Carson in January; and in Ladera Heights, Hawthorne and Alondra Park in February. Click here for dates, times, and locations.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas urged residents to attend the meetings in their neighborhoods, saying, “The Needs Assessment will only be as good as the feedback that we get. To ensure the results are meaningful, I encourage everyone to collaborate in the process.”

Alina Bokde, executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, added, “This once-in-a-decade process is about understanding what each community has and what it still needs.”

“It’s an opportunity for residents to voice their priorities – whether it be a new basketball court, playground or an area to sit and enjoy nature,” she added. “Your input will make a difference in building a better future with parks.”

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Seeing Helen Keller Park in a New Light

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Children played on swings, raced down slides, and even frolicked in the snow as the community of Athens celebrated the grand reopening of Helen Keller Park.

Out of an abundance of caution, the seven-acre park on 1045 W. 126th Street was closed to the public in the summer of 2013, when pieces of construction debris were found embedded in the soil.

A $5.2-million investment by Los Angeles County cleared away the environmental hazards, and installed a new playground, ball field, walking path and outdoor exercise equipment. The landscaping and south parking lot were also upgraded.

IMG_1343 (1)“When it comes to health and safety, we simply don’t mess around,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the grand reopening ceremony. “We’ve taken an environmental challenge and transformed it into a state-of-the-art recreational oasis.”

The site used to be a dumping ground for construction companies until the 1940’s, prior to its acquisition by Los Angeles County. Some of the old debris was unearthed during the $7.3-million renovation of the Community Center, which opened in late 2014.

For over a year, the Departments of Public Works and Parks and Recreation partnered with a private contractor, Environmental Construction, to replace the top layer of soil throughout the park and provide new attractions for visitors, both young and old.

Their work culminated in a grand reopening ceremony that transformed the park into a winter wonderland for a day, to the delight of local kids.

“I hope the message is clear: the Athens community deserves nothing but the best,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said to cheers from the crowd.

He said several projects are still in the works, including more affordable housing units, the renovation of the Youth Activities League building, and an art installation at Woodcrest Library.

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