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Progress Report On Jail Construction Plan

Inmates_Seated_Chained1_500x300Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday called for a progress report on the county’s Master Plan for replacing Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and for renovating Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster for female inmates.

They requested Sheriff Jim McDonnell and directed interim Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai to present the progress report at the board’s May 19, 2015 meeting at the county Hall of Administration.

Almost exactly a year ago, on May 6, 2014, the previously constituted board voted to replace the half-century old Men’s Central Jail with a state-of-the-art Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility that would hold and treat inmates with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders, as well as those considered medically fragile or requiring high security.

The board also voted to convert Mira Loma, previously a federal detention site for undocumented immigrants, into a facility for female inmates.

Before embarking on what could be the county’s most expensive infrastructure project, the board called for developing a cost-effective operational plan, timeline, and a report on how the construction would be financed.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said a progress report is due to the current board, stressing the need for transparency.

“We have a responsibility not only to build detention and treatment facilities that ensure public safety, but to build those facilities in public view, especially since the cost is projected to exceed $1 billion,” he said.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas observed that in the year since the board signed off on replacing Men’s Central Jail, criminal justice system reforms have affected the jail population.

AB 109, also known as realignment, raised the specter of overcrowding because it diverted felons from state prisons to county jails if their last conviction was for a non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offense. Proposition 47, on the other hand, helped reduce the jail population by downgrading several drug and nonviolent property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

Other reforms are still in the works, including Assembly Bill 1468, which would allow judges to split low risk inmates’ sentences between jail and probation, and Assembly Bill 624, which could cut low-risk inmates’ jail sentences short. Meanwhile, District Attorney Jackie Lacey is leading efforts to divert the mentally ill from jail into treatment.

“We cannot ignore the profound changes taking place in the criminal justice system,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Given this shifting landscape, it would be prudent to take another look at plans made a year ago, and consider making adjustments.”

Accountability After Safety Violations at Crenshaw/LAX Project

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In response to a motion by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted Thursday to investigate whether the contractor hired to build the $2-billion Crenshaw-LAX Line is in breach of contract after safety violations resulted in injuries to workers and placed others at risk.

The safety violations came as Walsh-Shea Corridor Constructors began ramping up work on the 8.5-mile rail line that is expected to have a daily ridership of 13,000-16,000 upon completion in 2019. Metro responded to the safety violations by issuing an unprecedented order to shut down construction over a four-day period in early April, resuming work only after the immediate hazards had been corrected.

“It strikes me that if there is a cultural, fundamental or endemic problem here, we cannot ignore it,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at Thursday’s Metro Board meeting. “We cannot run this sort of risk.”

The Supervisor’s motion, which passed with unanimous support from the board, called for:

  • auditing the Metro procurement process that awarded Walsh-Shea the Crenshaw/LAX contract;
  • checking if Walsh-Shea – instead of Metro – should assume the $400,000 cost of hiring additional safety inspectors;
  • directing Metro’s incoming CEO Phillip Washington to submit a corrective action plan in 30 days addressing safety issues; and
  • directing Metro lawyers to explore whether Walsh-Shea was in breach of contract when it failed to ensure the well-being of workers at the construction site.

Two workers have sustained leg fractures during construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Metro Executive Director of Risk and Safety Management Greg Kildare told the Metro Board.

Metro safety inspectors also criticized Walsh-Shea over improper rigging on a crane, improper guardrails around an open excavation, and gasoline in an underground area where flammable liquids are banned. The incident that prompted the temporary suspension of all construction on the project from April 9-13 was a worker striking a utility line with a jackhammer, causing an electrical short.

Weighing In on Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Department

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A town hall meeting on a Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department.

Amid mounting concern across the country about law enforcement practices and use of force, a panel appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors met with members of the public in Exposition Park on Monday to hear their suggestions for making the Sheriff’s Department more accountable to the people it serves.

_MG_6756“The working group is committed to soliciting the broadest range of public input in fashioning its recommendations for the board,” said Vincent Harris, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ appointee to the panel tasked with recommending the powers and responsibilities of a soon-to-be-created Civilian Oversight Commission.

The town hall meeting at the supervisor’s Exposition Park district office drew about 80 people, most of whom responded with a show of hands when asked whether they would support greater civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department.

“The Civilian Oversight Commission should be able to comment, analyze, and weigh in on the Sheriff’s Department’s operations,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now, a community organization that advocates for people behind bars, as well as their families and their communities.

Skid Row community activist Jeff Page said the commission should be granted subpoena powers to ensure investigations are thorough.

“This commission has to have credibility to actually make action happen, and subpoena power is something that would make this commission viable,” he said. “That way it’s more than a token social group that can just field questions and entertain comments from the public about questionable activities by the Sheriff’s Department.”

_MG_6728The board voted in December 2014 to create a Citizen’s Oversight Commission after a blue ribbon panel called for reforms within the Sheriff’s Department.

It appointed the working group to hash out details such as the commission’s mandate, authority, and number of members. The working group scheduled nine town hall meetings across Los Angeles County in April to hear public testimony on the subject, before submitting its final recommendations to the board.

You can examine the working group’s draft recommendations and analysis, and weigh in by emailing comments to commserve@bos.lacounty.gov.

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From left: Roger Granbo, Max Huntsman, Vincent Harris, Neal Tyler, Hernan Vera and Les Robbins

 

Bringing a Biotech Medical Park to LA County

BiotechStoryHoping to nurture talent, develop a new industry and increase medical innovation, the Board of Supervisors took a first step towards creating the first ever biotech medical park in Los Angeles County on the campus of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

The 15-acre campus will be located next to the LA BioMed Research center, a nonprofit institution with more than 60-years of successfully developing new medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals. Modern biotechnology includes research on genes, living organisms, agriculture and food processing.

groundbreakingWhen completed, the biotech campus, which is expected to house nearly 250,000 square-feet of office space, will be a public/private partnership that should generate between 800 to 900 jobs. The estimated private development cost of building the campus will likely be between $110-million and $125-million. The land, which is owned by the county and will be leased, has an estimated value of $25-million to $30-million.

“This will lay the groundwork to begin making Los Angeles a hub of biotech innovation,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion that was approved. “Now the county can begin to achieve its full potential as a leader in this industry, support new discoveries made by local researchers and attract bioscience companies to our region.”

On May 6th, the supervisor participated in the campus transformation groundbreaking ceremony, during which LA BioMed received its largest donation ever — $3 million from LA BioMed board member Joan Jones, former mayor of Manhattan Beach. The money will be used to kick off the capital campaign to build state-of-the art research facilities to replace the World War II-era barracks that house some of LA BioMed’s researchers and their laboratories.

“I believe strongly in their vision,” Ms. Jones said during the ceremony. “The research done here really makes a difference not only in our community but around the world. For the last decade, LA BioMed has been on the cutting edge of bringing innovative changes in the world of medicine.”

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The campus transformation begins with construction of an outdoor pavilion and shared communal space, funded in part with $1 million donated by Melanie and Richard Lundquist.

Mr. Lundquist said “an organization that has changed the face of medicine deserves a physical environment that reflects its lofty ideals and commitment to scientific achievement.”

A 2014 Battelle bioscience study, commissioned by the county, found that the bioscience industry faces significant hurdles in Los Angeles. In particular much of the research pioneered locally moves out of the county due to a lack of funding, facilities and support for new startups and early stage companies. Los Angeles falls behind the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego in venture capital, initial public offerings and fast growing biotechnology companies.

Located in the South Bay area adjacent Carson and Torrance, the proposed Biotech Campus is ideally situated to meet needs of bioscience companies and their high-tech work force. Since its founding more than 60 years ago, LA BioMed’s physician-researchers have helped develop some of the most important breakthroughs in medicine today, including cholesterol testing, heart scan technology, thyroid testing for newborns and treatment standards and techniques for paramedics.

CEV1Z_hUIAA6sxj“I believe that the new industry of consequence in this region will be in the area of biotech and Biomed, and LA Biomed is leading the way to cause Los Angeles County to be the premier locus of biomed and biotech in the nation,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

LA BioMed president and CEO David Meyer called Supervisor Ridley-Thomas a “supporter, partner, friend and believer.”

“Most importantly,” Mr. Meyer added, “We share a common vision for the future: to make Los Angeles County a vibrant hub for bioscience research that leads to better health outcomes, not just for his district, not just for the county, or the state or the nation, but for those who suffer across the globe.”

In addition to creating a biotech campus, the Board of Supervisors directed the Community Development Commission in November to establish a task force to carry out the recommendations of the Battelle study including creating bioscience hubs throughout the County.

Symphonies for Schools

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Credit: LA Phil

Once again, Walt Disney Concert Hall is reverberating with a different kind of music: the joyous laughter of little kids.

The world-renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra is providing a series of free concerts to about 12,000 elementary, middle and high school students from across Los Angeles County through its annual Symphonies for Schools program this April.

On Tuesday, third, fourth and fifth-graders gleefully took over the magnificent Walt Disney Concert Hall, the yellow color of their school buses standing out vividly against the downtown landmark’s stainless steel façade.

Sharlyn Williams, a teacher at Wadsworth Elementary in South Los Angeles, part of the Second District, was grateful for the opportunity to expose her students to classical music.

“I think this is a wonderful experience for inner-city schoolchildren,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to really free their minds, to envision the possibilities, to see something beyond their limited scope – it’s just awesome.”

With Dudamel Fellow Gemma New conducting, LA Phil musicians performed Sergei Prokofiev’s classic Peter and the Wolf, drawing enthusiastic applause from their young audience, most of whom had never watched a live orchestra performance before.

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Credit: LA Phil

“Bravissima!” raved Edwin, a 10-year-old fourth-grader from Wadsworth who plays violin and hopes to be a conductor someday. “The show was excellent!”

Isabella, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Wadsworth, found herself mystified by the musicians’ impressive talent. “How did they do that?” she said. “It was amazing!”

The repertoire for middle and high school students will consist of Antonin Dvorak’s masterful Symphony No. 9, and four original works by the high school-age graduating class of the LA Phil’s Composer Fellowship Program.

LA Phil’s director of educational initiatives, Gretchen Nielsen, said the free concerts are so much more than entertainment.

“For elementary school kids, I think these concerts become a jumping-off point for developing their imagination and creativity, because they’re introduced to such beauty through the concert hall, the orchestra and the music that’s being performed,” Nielsen said.

“The concerts for middle school and high students were designed specifically for youth who are learning music, and are members of a band, choir or orchestra,” she added. “We want to provide the ultimate inspiration to them as they make their own journey as musicians.”

The LA Phil first began performing concerts for elementary school children almost a century ago, in 1919. The Symphonies for Schools program began in 2000, and has allowed countless students to enjoy masterpieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and many more.

Among the Second District schools to benefit from this year’s free concerts are 68th Street Elementary, Miramonte Elementary, Martin Luther King Elementary, Roosevelt Middle School, and Manual Arts High School.

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