County Data At Your Fingertips


Ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability, Los Angeles County launched an Open Data website Thursday that will serve as a user-friendly one-stop shop for the public to access vast troves of data – from neighborhood crime statistics to restaurant inspection grades, and many more.

“We are now offering more information in an accessible and unprecedented way to our county residents,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion creating the county’s Open Data Initiative. “We will continue to ask for transparency and to encourage innovation with the information that our county collects.”

Click on the image to access

Previously, the public had to sift through hundreds of pages of files on different county websites to obtain information.

With the new website, they simply click an icon on the their computer screen to look at the county budget, expenditures, employee salaries, election results, and the largest online collection of property assessment records in the U.S.

The data is also in a form that entrepreneurs can use to develop mobile apps, potentially leading to further innovations. The county has created a task force to identify even more datasets that can be added to the website after the initial launch.

Los Angeles County is the largest municipal government in the nation to make data easily accessible. It follows a 2013 executive order by President Barack Obama declaring that information is a valuable national asset whose worth can be multiplied when made accessible to the public.

Crenshaw/LAX Rail Line: Construction On Track

Construction of the $2-billion, 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX rail line continues to move forward, with another round of excavation underway for an underground train station.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been working on the project for just over a year, tackling challenging feats of engineering while also supporting businesses in the hard had areas.

Once completed in 2019, the Crenshaw/LAX rail line will have eight stations, the northernmost connecting to the Expo Line, and southernmost to the Green Line, not far from one of the world’s busiest airports. Funded through Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008, it is projected to have a daily ridership of 13,000 to 16,000.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, vice chairman of Metro’s Board of Directors, said the importance of the Crenshaw/LAX rail line cannot be understated.

“This rail line will transform neighborhoods by allowing people to get where they need to be, and quickly,” he said. “It’ll also cut air pollution and traffic congestion, and boost businesses along the route by carrying customers almost to their doorstep. In short, it will change the landscape of Los Angeles for the better.”

Freedom Schools End with Grand Celebration

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera ParkEight-year-old, Laci Martin of Compton enjoyed attending her summer literacy enrichment program, so much last year she couldn’t wait to return to Read Lead’s Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in Lynwood this year.

“Last year I wasn’t a good reader, but now I can read 141 words a minute,” Laci said enthusiastically. “I’ve read so many books this summer, I can’t count how many books I’ve read.”

Laci was one of more than 450 Freedom Schools scholars, ages 5 to 18 celebrating the end of their summer Freedom School program, a six week long program created by the Children’s Defense Fund to prevent the effects of summer learning loss. Throughout the summer, six Freedom Schools sites throughout the Second District, provided these young scholars with a curriculum that was both challenging and entertaining, with activities that included reading, art, dance, music, field trips, athletics and community service.

The model is based on an idea born 50 years ago this summer, during the crucible of the civil rights movement. In 1964, in what came to be called the Mississippi Freedom Summer, when college students from around the nation descended on the state to help African-Americans register to vote and to teach black children as an alternative to Mississippi’s underfunded and segregated school system. For many pupils, the Freedom Schools provided their first introduction to literature by and about black people, encouraging them to both read about and write their own stories.

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera ParkFast-forward to 2014, and students in today’s Freedom Schools received similar encouragement. As it did 50 years ago, a love of reading blossomed in these young ones too. That’s crucial, because studies have shown that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds suffer a significant learning gap during the 11 weeks of summer vacation.

For the nearly 500 children of the Second District Freedom Schools, however, much of that gap was filled with mentoring, lessons and field trips. At the program’s end, children and their teachers gathered at Ladera Park in Los Angeles recently for a special culmination party. In addition to singing, chanting and celebrating their newfound love of reading, they were treated to a reading from Donzaleigh Abernathy, actress, author and daughter of the legendary civil rights leader Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

She read from her book, Partners to History and told the children how during slavery, reading was not an option for many and in fact, slave owners punished blacks who tried to learn to read.

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera Park“I wanted to share that history and that’s why I decided to read the book today,” Abernathy, who knew Martin Luther King, Jr. so well he was like an uncle, said. “ I wrote the book because I love my dad and I love Uncle Martin and they made it possible for me to be free in the world.”

In addition, the students were treated to a special baseball clinic by the Los Angeles Dodgers. They learned about earthquake safety, climbed aboard a fire engine and stopped by the Los Angeles County Public Library’s Urban Outreach Bookmobile.

Freedom Schools Finale - Ladera Park“All children are entitled to a strong learning environment,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has sponsored 16 sites over the past five years. “Freedom Schools instill an unstoppable love of learning and reading that positively affects every child. It is always an honor to see the desire to learn passed down to generations.”

As part of the program, college students serve as “Servant Leader Interns” who are trained to work as reading tutors and role models, motivating children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and their abilities. For first-time Freedom Schools Community Coalition Servant Leader Intern, Yvette Aragon, 23 of Los Angeles, the finale was bittersweet.

“I’m happy to be here with my scholars but to see the program end makes me sad,” Aragon said. “I’m so proud of them, not just my scholars but all the scholars here. They are dynamic and I know they are going to be future leaders.”

Hellen Keller Read Lead Servant Leader Intern Crystal Leon, 26 agreed with Aragon: “It’s a lot of hard work, dedication and long hours but at the end of the day when you make a difference in someone’s life, it’s all worth it.”


Local Worker Gets Second Chance

Homeless and recently released from prison in 2011, Blair Martin knew she needed a big break to get back on her feet. Little did she know that her opportunity would happen so near her hometown of Compton.

Martin had worked all sorts of jobs that were either short lived or uninspiring — like driving a truck for her uncle’s now defunct trucking business or manning a cash register at McDonald’s for eight dollars an hour. So when she was given a chance to interview for a spot on the construction crew of the new MLK outpatient center in Willowbrook, she jumped at it.

The 23-year-old knew she had to make a good impression at the interview and prove that despite her past, she was ready for new future. Martin convinced the hire ups at Sharpe Interior Systems that she wanted a career—not a job and her enthusiasm, broad smile and willingness to work were persuasive. She was hired.

Martin is one of nine women on a crew of more than 130 working on the construction of the MLK outpatient center. When it opens in 2014, the center is expected to provide state of the art outpatient care including primary, specialty and urgent care for those not needing an overnight hospital stay.

Martin benefitted from the local worker hiring program, which Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has championed on all construction projects in the Second District and the county. On most county jobs, at least 30 percent of the workforce must come from the area and some must be “disadvantaged local workers” meaning that they are homeless or parolees, like Martin.

It is not an easy job. The days are long and arduous.

Her shift begins before 6 a.m. On any given day, Martin, like the men on the job, carries wooden beams and 12-foot-long sheets of wallboard; saw dust and fine particles of dirt swirl in the air, covering the skin in a dusty film. The constant noise from saws, hammers and drills is deafening. Paying attention to her surroundings is key—there are holes in the ground, people walking around with long steel beams and dangling wires everywhere.

Larry Shufelt, the general foreman on the project who hired Martin, estimates that only 1 out of 5 apprentices make it through the end of the three-year training program to become journeyman-or a full union member.

Trainees such as Martin get both on-the-job training but also grounding in job skills important to all employers: “We talk to them about punctuality, attendance and discipline,” he said. “Blair’s work ethic is top notch.”

For Martin, much is at stake: a new life.

“Prison made me change a whole lot,” she said. “I realized I didn’t need a job—I needed a career that I can do for the rest of my life and that I will actually enjoy doing.”

So, while her new career is tough, it has provided a new path and Martin has embraced it fearlessly, said Shufelt.

“In this job, you have to climb high on scaffolding and some don’t like it,” he said. “She is not afraid of heights.”

But in order to climb, she needed a custom made harness for her petite frame. When the order was placed, Shufelt’s boss asked if Martin was worth the investment.

“I looked at him and said, ‘yeah, she is worth investing in,’” he said. “She is going to make it.”

The Woman Building the New MLK Multi-Service Outpatient Center

All right, Esther Diaz, the senior project manager overseeing construction of the new Martin Luther King Multi-Service Outpatient Center in Willowbrook isn’t building the project all by herself. A crew of workers including, electricians, mechanics and plumbers have been working on the beautiful new facility since it broke ground last January.

Still, as the project manager on one of the most exciting health care construction projects in the county, she manages the $167-million project and is responsible for seeing that the center is delivered by the fall of this year. When completed, the 135,550-square-foot multi-service center will be one of three jewels on the MLK Medical Center Campus, joining the new hospital and new Center for Public Health. Together, these facilities will deliver preventive, emergency, diagnostic and wellness healthcare services to the residents of South Los Angeles in an unprecedented way. In the coming years, the campus will include a new mental health urgent care center, medical office space, residential facilities for seniors and medical interns.

Since the project broke ground last year, construction workers have been hard at work installing the multi- service outpatient center ’s structural steel frame, exterior walls, and enclosing the building. To date, mechanical, electrical and plumbing are estimated to be about 70 percent complete and interior finishes are now underway, according to Diaz.

When completed, the facility will undergo a rigorous inspection process by state and county officials before opening. The center will offer specialty treatments such as dialysis, physical therapy, urgent care and outpatient surgery. Until that time, the 41-year-old East Los Angeles native is a familiar sight overseeing the construction, amid the exposed wiring and dry wall, clad in a hard hat and steel-toed boots.

Diaz also oversees 130 construction workers, many of whom are part of the local worker hiring program, a policy championed by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas to ensure that local workers who live near the project perform at least 30 percent of the total construction labor hours.

As a 15-year veteran of the Department of Public Works, Diaz sees to it that construction projects throughout the county transition smoothly from conceptual design to actual construction. Along the way, she too has undergone a transition — from proving herself the equal of her peers in a male-dominated field to now leading the way.

“Over the last years, I’ve gained confidence and I’m more relaxed,” Diaz said. “Now I can joke a little more when I’m facilitating a meeting. In the beginning, I was serious because I had to earn the respect from the people in the room with more experience.”

Diaz visits the construction site at least twice a week, and the rest of the time she is troubleshooting issues as they come up — she’s part engineer, part architect, part construction manager.

“I go through some challenges, although they don’t happen on a daily basis, they do happen,” said Diaz. “This job requires you to be a problem solver, listener, analyzer and have the ability to multi-task well.”

As one of the youngest in a family of eight, Diaz learned about hard work from her immigrant parents. Both were blue collar workers who came from Mexico to Los Angeles where they found jobs; her father as a welder and her mother as an assembly line worker. Although her father Alberto died six years ago of cancer, her mother Elodia still lives in Pico Rivera .

“My parents were very hard workers who were very dedicated to their jobs. They never took a day off work,” said Diaz. “My mom worked in the Central Crenshaw area and had to ride the bus for an hour and a half to get to work but she still made it to work on time.”

After graduating from Garfield High School in 1989, Diaz attended California State University, Northridge, where she earned her undergraduate degree in civil engineering. For a while she considered majoring in business but after taking her first engineering class she discovered her love for math. She went on to get her master ‘ s degree in construction management at California State University, Long Beach.

“After taking an engineering class, I knew I had found my passion,” said Diaz. “I can’t say that it was easy. It was challenging but it was also rewarding.”

On her way up the career ladder, she occasionally felt the sting of being overlooked and not taken seriously; Diaz recalls one meeting in particular where a colleague gave credit for her idea to a man in the room.

“I’ve learned to deal with it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard knowing that I have to prove myself a little bit more and that I have to validate myself with facts but as a woman we have to work a little bit harder.”

But her hard work has paid off and she has the full backing and confidence of her bosses—both of whom are men.

“We are very proud of Esther,” said Diaz’ supervisor David Howard, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works assistant deputy director. “She’s an excellent employee and project manager.”

When Diaz is not at work, she enjoys hiking and traveling out of the country. A glimpse of her passport will reveal that she’s been to Spain, Greece, London, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Hawaii.

Her advice to young women eager to follow in her footsteps:

“Do it. It’s going to be hard work and require a lot of dedication, but at the end of the day it’s very satisfying,” Diaz said. “You can overcome any obstacle that comes your way. If people tell you something is hard. Don’t believe it until you try it.”