Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Statement on the passing of Civic Leader John W. Mack

“For nearly 40 years, John Wesley Mack and I were friends, confidants and collaborators. He burnished a distinguished legacy of public service, fathering not one but two generations of civic leaders.

“Ever the idealist and visionary, he refused to let institutional racism, police misconduct, interethnic strife, and the challenges of metropolitan politics impede his quest for civil rights, justice and progress.

“His work bettered the lives of so many people in Los Angeles and beyond. As I offer my deepest condolences to his children and grandchildren, I pledge to continue his legacy through committed, inclusive and principled leadership and service.”

Obama Foundation Lauds Local Community Leader

After sorting through about 20,000 applications from around the world, the Obama Foundation awarded one of its first fellowships to the founder of a local nonprofit that mentors thousands of incarcerated, foster, and at-risk youth, helping them change their lives for the better.

“I am honored to be part of the inaugural Obama Foundation Fellows class and join this diverse group of passionate civic innovators,” New Earth founder Harry Grammer said. “Through the Obama Foundation Fellowship, I look forward to continuing to help more youth realize their dreams and become unstoppable.”

Grammer knows all too well the struggles that his students face. At age 16, he was arrested and sentenced to five years of probation, but he managed to turn his life around and began operating New Earth out of a coffee shop in 2004.

Now, New Earth offers free mentor-based education, counseling, job training and other services to about 500 youth per week in probation camps, juvenile halls, group homes and other placements throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The youth are also given an opportunity to explore writing, music, poetry, performance and art in an environment of creativity and introspection, which are critical to fostering new perspectives while incarcerated.

Upon their release, the youth join the New Earth Arts and Leadership Center in Culver City, which offers career training, a fully accredited high school education program, mentorship, case management, nature expeditions, arts programming, and wrap-around services. New Earth also has a campus in Gardena that offers vocational education in the fields of construction, culinary arts and early childhood education, as well as other services.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented New Earth founder Harry Grammer with a scroll in 2017.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas honored Grammer at a Board of Supervisors meeting in late 2017, shortly after he was named a CNN Hero and after the California State Legislature recognized New Earth as Nonprofit of the Year.

“With their dedication and commitment, Harry Grammer and New Earth have helped 10,000 young people overcome tremendous obstacles and turn their lives around,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “They are making Los Angeles County safer by investing in youth and promoting second chances.”

New Earth has a 95 percent success rate in preventing its students from returning to the juvenile justice system, thanks to programs that help them reenter their communities with the support and nurturing they need to make a successful transition.

The Obama Foundation Fellowship will help Grammer and New Earth take their work to the next level. It is a two-year non-residential program that brings together the next generation of civil leaders creating transformational change on many of the world’s most pressing problems. The Fellowship offers hands-on training, leadership development, and a powerful network for participants to amplify the impact of their work and inspire a wave of civic innovation.

Out of the inaugural class of 20 Obama Foundation Fellows, Grammer is the only one chosen from Southern California, and one of only 10 working in the United States.

“The 2018 Obama Foundation Fellows come from diverse backgrounds but share a common desire to make positive change and create the world as it should be,” said Obama Foundation CEO David Simas. “By bringing these individuals together to work with the Obama Foundation, we hope to help amplify the work of our Fellows so it has a widespread impact. On behalf of President and Mrs. Obama and the Obama Foundation family, I congratulate our new Fellows and look forward to working with them.”

Supervisors Oppose Proposed Trump Administration Cuts to Affordable Housing

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted, with one abstention, to send a letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson expressing their “strong opposition” to his proposal to reduce federal housing subsidies to the poor.

Sec. Carson is calling on Congress to pass the Making Affordable Housing Work Act, which would triple – to $150 – the minimum monthly rent that an estimated 175,000 households receiving federal housing subsidies must pay. It would also require about 2 million households in subsidized housing to increase their share of the rent to 35 percent of their adjusted income, up from 30 percent.  Finally, the measure would allow public housing authorities to impose work requirements on tenants – up to 32 hours a week.

“If you think homelessness is a problem now, try this on for size,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion, said of the proposed Act. “This could have a devastating effect on LA County, which already has one of the nation’s least affordable housing markets and, as a result, the largest homeless population.”

“I was dismayed to see the Secretary introduce this, right after a conversation about the responsibility and opportunity that government agencies have to help lift individuals and families out of poverty,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “There is no question that the current regulations are archaic, but there is simply a better way to approach policy reform, and we should engage accordingly.”

The LA County Community Development Commission analyzed the proposed Act and found that families in public housing would have to spend an average of $570 towards rent every month – $104 more than they currently do – if the requirement to pay 35 percent of their income were to be adopted by Congress. Seniors and tenants with severely limited incomes would be most acutely affected by the rent increases.

“This proposal is cruel and frankly unnecessary,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion’s co-author. “Section 8 units in LA County are home to some of our poorest families and often are the only thing standing between them and homelessness. We need creative solutions for homelessness from our HUD secretary but this proposal is counterproductive and should not be allowed to move forward.”

Section 8 refers to vouchers issued by the federal government to help very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing.

Board Approves Unprecedented Probation Reform and Oversight

L-R: ACLU’s Ian Kysel; Urban Peace Institute’s Josh Green; Children’s Defense Fund’s Shimica Gaskins; and A New Way of Life’s Susan Burton testify in favor of the motion.

The Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a comprehensive roadmap for reforming the troubled Probation Department, including creating a Probation Oversight Commission with unprecedented authority to conduct inquiries and investigations in partnership with the Office of Inspector General.

“Probation reform is the order of the day,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion. “Rehabilitation should be the thrust of Probation, and we owe it to the department’s approximately 9,000 youth and 47,000 adult clients to get this done in a better way.”

“From mismanagement of grant funds to abuses in the camps, the challenges are so widespread and systematic that they stymie those in Probation who are trying to do good work,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “I believe strengthening oversight and increasing accountability can help the department not only improve its operations and fulfill its mandate, but also restore public trust.”

“Today’s action sets into motion a comprehensive process to ensure that the Probation Department is able to make the transformational change that the department and the community deserves,” the motion’s coauthor, Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, said. “As we move forward with implementing a modern approach to criminal justice through concrete and impactful reforms, this new Commission is charged with an important mandate for action. I will continue to work with the Probation Department and my colleagues on the Board to make certain that accountability, transparency and community engagement are a cornerstone of Probation oversight and reform.”

The Board voted to adopt a series of recommendations by County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai, which include immediately creating a short-term Reform and Implementation Team to synthesize decades worth of reform recommendations for Probation into a single unified vision for reform.

The Team would also advise the Board on how to strengthen and repurpose the existing Probation Commission into a new Probation Oversight Commission with a full complement of staff that reports directly to the Board and whose scope will be expanded to include not only youth but adult populations.

The new structure would mirror that of the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission, with the Office of Inspector General acting as the investigative entity for both.

Several advocates and leaders of community organizations welcomed the proposed reforms and stressed the urgent need for oversight. “We have an opportunity here to put into place the type of institutionalized support that can earn the public trust that is so crucial to the effective delivery of services,” said Josh Green, criminal justice program director at the Urban Peace Institute. “It represents an important step in ongoing efforts to improve and reimagine what juvenile justice and adult supervision can and should look like in Los Angeles.”

Children’s Defense Fund-California executive director Shimica Gaskins added, “The motion recognizes the tremendous leadership and reform work currently happening but also recognizes the need for a structure that outlives any particular champion to ensure there is positive, consistent vision, policy and practice serving the youth and adults who come in contact with Probation.”

Former LA juvenile court Judge Jan Levine was among two Probation Commissioners who testified in support of the motion. She said, “I have been frustrated by the current Probation Commission’s structural impediments to effecting change. The new Probation Oversight Commission will have the staff support that is sorely needed. Combined with the added capacity of the Inspector General, this body will be able to ensure more transparency and provide a forum for families and stakeholders to participate in Probation issues.”

The Board also heard testimony from people who have been directly affected by the department. Kent Mendoza, policy coordinator at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said, “As someone who was on probation from age 13 to 21, I can personally tell you that reform and oversight are needed. A civilian oversight body with more teeth and robust community engagement are critical principles that will help us sustain reform.

“Probation reform is much needed,” said Ingrid Archie, staff member at the community nonprofit A New Way of Life. “We are sick and tired of having to bargain for our humanity.”

Ensuring Safe and Clean Water

Acting on an urgency motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors activated a strike team to investigate reports that brown water is running through taps in Willowbrook and Compton, and to take immediate steps to prevent any serious risks to public health.

In recent months, several customers of the independently operated Sativa Water District have complained about discoloration in their water supply.

“This is alarming,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “While it is ultimately the state that holds the authority to regulate Sativa’s water quality, all state and local entities have a moral obligation to ensure our residents have safe and clean water.”

“It is incumbent upon the County Department of Public Health to investigate immediately,” he added. “If there is a health risk, we are committed to working with state regulators to come up with immediate and long-term solutions.”

Ridley-Thomas’ motion also calls on County agencies to determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s existing infrastructure issues and ensure that customers have ongoing access to clean and safe water. This could include working with the Local Agency Formation Commission and the State Water Resources Control Board to explore options to dissolve Sativa and identify a more sustainable water purveyor for the area.

Sativa currently has about 1,600 customers in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook and the City of Compton.