Featured items on homepage for top stories…

Girls Empowerment Month

MVA_9559Evoking the icon that is Rosie the Riveter, thousands of girls and women are literally and figuratively rolling up their sleeves and declaring “We can do it!” as Los Angeles County observes “Girls Empowerment Month.”

On a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed October as Girls Empowerment Month to encourage girls and women to break down barriers to their success and to focus critical attention on gender inequality.

“A lot has changed for the better over the past century but, just as there is much to celebrate, there remains much to be troubled about,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

MVA_9919“Nationally, women remain greatly underrepresented in business, construction, manufacturing, science, technology, engineering, math and public service leadership positions,” he added. “We know, however, that when barriers are lifted, girls and women aggressively pursue their educations and engage in civic activities.

During Girls Empowerment Month, County agencies, nonprofit organizations and the business community have committed to offering and supporting programs that educate, employ and empower girls and women throughout October and beyond.

The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education (LA Fund) will launch Girls Build LA, which challenges teams of high school girls to design and implement community-based solutions that can effect widespread change in the areas of education, civic engagement, and health and wellness. The most creative and impactful will receive scholarships and other prizes.

“It’s exciting to give them a voice,” LA Fund founder Megan Chernin said. “It’s going to unleash their ideas.”

To kick off “Girls Build LA,” LA Fund recently hosted the West Coast premiere of He Named Me Malala before an audience of more than 6,000 girls and at the Microsoft Theater at LA Live. 

The documentary tells the story of Malala Yousafszai, a Pakistani activist who, at age 14, survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban for daring to go to school. At age 17, she became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and has become the most recognizable advocate for the education of girls and women worldwide.

The County’s Fire Department and Metropolitan Transportation Authority are also implementing programs that open doors for girls and women. So are the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Commission for Women.

“It’s important to let young women know that there is a potential career for them in the fire service,” Fire Chief Daryl Osby said. “We need to engage them and mentor them, so that maybe one day they can join the ranks of the Fire Department.”


My Health LA – One Year and Counting

IMG_0450-1More than 130,000 individuals who do not have or cannot get health insurance now receive free health care, thanks to a Los Angeles County program that just marked its first anniversary.

My Health LA provides primary and preventive health care to eligible residents – regardless of immigration status. The Department of Health Services (DHS) administers the program in partnership with community-based nonprofit clinics and school-based health centers.

During a press conference that doubled as a birthday party, complete with cake and balloons, at the Hall of Administration, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis hailed the success of My Health LA and encouraged more people to sign up for its benefits.

“Come and get what you are entitled to receive,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Don’t delay another day.”

“My Health LA has been a fabulous public-private collaboration to keep Los Angeles County residents healthy,” he added. “I look forward to the County’s efforts to expand the program with more dental care, substance abuse and mental health services.”

20151001_095432Supervisor Hilda Solis said the program is available to anyone over age 6 who meets certain income requirements. To qualify for free health care, individuals must earn no more than $1,354 a month. The threshold is $1,832 for a couple and $2,789 for a household of four. Click here for the complete chart.

“We are at a time in our country where a lot of progress is being made with access to health care, and My Health LA is a part of that progress,” Supervisor Solis said. “I am proud to say that we are the only County in the nation to provide no-cost coverage to the residually uninsured.”

Delia Balolong said she went without health care for years until My Health LA came along, and she expressed her deep gratitude for the program. “Thank you,” she said during the press conference. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Currently, My Health LA covers hospital and emergency care, health screenings, lab tests, prescription medicines and other services. About 180 nonprofit clinics and school-based health centers provide the services, along with DHS hospitals and other facilities. Click here to find the one nearest you.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 2.46.40 PMLast month, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis filed a motion urging the Board of Supervisors to look into expanding My Health LA’s dental benefits, as well as substance abuse and mental health services. They also inquired about streamlining paperwork requirements and relaxing income thresholds to make more families eligible.

Nancy Gomez of Health Access California, a coalition that advocates for quality, affordable health care for all, stressed, “Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.”

To enroll in My Health LA, visit or call any of the community partner clinics and check if they are accepting new patients. Click here for a directory, and make sure to bring a photo ID; proof that you live in Los Angeles County; and a document that shows your income, such as a pay stub or last year’s tax forms.

A Symbol of Hope on Skid Row

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 3.41.28 PMRamping up desperately needed services for the homeless in Skid Row, the Los Angeles County Downtown Mental Health Center reopened Monday after a $10-million renovation.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cut the ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to 529 S. Maple Street, flanked by Supervisor Hilda Solis, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Department of Mental Health (DMH) director Marvin Southard.

“I am morally outraged that 2,000 persons sleep on the streets of Skid Row every night,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This new facility will connect residents of Skid Row as well as the rest of downtown Los Angeles to a continuum of psychiatric services.”


Inside the newly redesigned Downtown Mental Health Center

He called it a “symbol of hope” that will serve as a
“critical access point for comprehensive, holistic and customized services to both the homeless and the formerly homeless who need continued assistance.”

Supervisor Solis issued a rallying cry — “Sigue Adelante!” — which translates into “Let’s keep moving forward.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the renovation after DMH cited overcrowding and structural problems in the original clinic, which began operating in 2001. Funding came from the Mental Health Services Act, a ballot initiative approved by California voters in 2004, which imposed a 1% tax on millionaires to pay for programs that would improve the public mental health system.

District Attorney Lacey said the project was a way of “helping those who cannot help themselves,” while Sheriff McDonnell emphasized the general public stood to benefit more from providing services to the mentally ill than locking them up in jail.


A homeless encampment in Skid Row

“Let’s chart a new path and be a model for the rest of the nation,” Sheriff McDonnell said.

The renovation will allow the DMH to provide services to about 3,300 patients on site at any given time, while connecting thousands of other patients to several specialized DMH programs in the vicinity, creating a network of critical mental health services.

“This new facility should be seen as the next step in the County’s total commitment for finding the combination of housing, addiction, mental health and other services that aim at ending the scandal that is Skid Row,” added Director Southard.

“As a homeless person journeys towards recovery, it is essential that he or she have meaningful and timely connections to ongoing mental health and substance abuse services,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This Center will act as a linchpin, connecting folks who are on the streets of Skid Row or in the Missions to crisis resolution services, and then wellness services, as they recover.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.49.31 PM

Transforming Urban Blight into Community Gardens


Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas trying out his green thumb at the Florence-Firestone Community Garden in 2011

Vacant lots overgrown with weeds could soon be transformed into community gardens bursting with fruits and vegetables.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to begin the process of establishing an Urban Agricultural Incentive Zone (UAIZ) program in Los Angeles County.

By turning vacant lots into community gardens, it would reduce urban blight while increasing the supply of fresh produce grown in urban areas.

The program is authorized by the California Urban Agriculture Incentives Zone Act or AB 551, and requires the owner of the vacant lot to enter into a contract with the County to dedicate the property for agricultural uses.

In exchange, the owner would get a property tax discount.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the benefits of the program would outweigh any revenue losses to the County.

“I see this as one tool in the toolkit to address the significant food desert issues prevalent in urban areas throughout the County,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The fiscal cost of establishing a UAIZ program are likely to pale in comparison to the anticipated public health, environmental, quality of life and economic benefits for the participants and the surrounding communities.”

His motion drew support from several advocates of urban gardening, including Matthew Van Diepen, founder of Homegrown Gardens. He declared at Tuesday’s Board meeting: “We are ready to turn blighted areas of our city into hubs of life that will foster nature, community and the economy through community gardens and production farms.”

Francesca de la Rosa, policy director for Women Organizing Resources Knowledge & Services WORKS, said the program would help address one of the biggest obstacles to community food growing efforts – access to land.

“This program will be a win for gardeners, property owners and, most importantly, neighborhoods across this County that stand to benefit from an increase in access to healthy fruits and vegetables; the creation of new green, open spaces; and renewed neighborhood pride generated from beautiful community garden projects,” she said.

Luke Ippoliti, with the nonprofit Meet Each Need with Dignity, said the program would address the county’s high rates of poverty, food insecurity, diabetes and obesity. Meanwhile, Breanna Hawkins, a policy and research fellow at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, estimated that every $1 invested in community gardens yields about $6 worth of vegetables.

“We recognize the many economic, social, social, health and environmental benefits that urban agriculture can bring to the county, as well as the tax benefit it can bring to property owners,” she said.

According to County Assessor, almost 57,000 parcels of land may be eligible for the program throughout Los Angeles County, including almost 8,000 in unincorporated areas governed by the Board. Those living in incorporated areas cannot participate until their respective cities adopt a resolution.