Enhancing Safety in Workplaces

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion empowering workers to safeguard their workplaces.

Authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the motion authorizes worker-led public health councils, third-party workers, and community-based organizations to assist public health officials in implementing safety measures.

“The unsung heroes of our essential workforce are keeping our economy afloat during this unrelenting crisis,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We must build on the Department of Public Health (DPH)’s enforcement resources by enabling workers to monitor, document and report potential public health violations, especially those tied to the potential spread of COVID-19, in a timely and nimble manner.”

“When public health guidelines are not rigorously implemented by businesses, it not only puts workers and customers at risk, it puts their families and communities at risk,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “That’s why we must aggressively monitor compliance in workplaces and empower workers and community organizations to help. Plain and simple: full compliance can mean the difference between life and death.”

By partnering with workers to determine which protocols are being followed and identifying hindrances, DPH is expanding its capacity to ensure adherence to COVID-19 public health protocols. This collaborative approach will support tailoring precautions for each workplace. Although comprehensive guidelines have been provided, there is a vast range of workplace activity across the County that may require very distinctive measures.

This motion is intended to help address concerns raised by essential workers, many of whom belong to communities of color and bear the brunt of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The County recently approved developing an anti-racist policy agenda and ensuring their safety is an integral part of the effort to achieve racial equity.

Recently, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joined essential workers from across LA County for a Facebook Live hearing and heard directly from them about the challenges they face. SEIU United Service Workers West President David Huerta said, “They are doing their jobs to support the economy from crashing and to keep us safe and healthy while they and their families are taking on the increased risk of exposure to the virus.”

Describing the multilayered crises affecting essential workers, Los Angeles Black Worker Center Co-Executive Director Janel Bailey said, “We’re seeing a lot of the same dynamics of inequality that have left black workers behind and left other people of color behind—and we have to name systemic racism as the true virus that is impacting communities right now.”

Click the photo to watch the LA County Essential Worker Hearing.

Though the pervasive threat of the virus has prevented a widespread reopening of in-person work, this motion may help speed up economic recovery.

Workplaces, particularly restaurants and bars, have been identified as some of the highest risk virus transmission sites. Empowering workers to monitor and report violations of public health protocols will help curb the spread of the virus in workplaces, and ultimately in communities. When broader reopening occurs, this collaboration will bolster the implementation of the best public health practices that will keep businesses from having to close their doors again.

Dulan’s on Crenshaw has installed shields at its registers to protect workers.

“We thank the L.A. Board of Supervisors for supporting public health and approving this motion,” said Rob Nothoff, Policy Director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “The workplace is foundational when it comes to public health, and workers are in a unique position to be the champions when it comes to stemming the coronavirus. We need all violations to be reported as soon as possible, and we need a framework to expedite this process. Who better to monitor and document public health violations than the workers themselves? When workers are engaged, the public is safer.”

LA County Hits the Mark on Economic Development

Los Angeles County recently released their annual scorecard. The Economic Development Scorecard created by the Chief Executive Office is intended to track the progress made by the County in impacting economic development in the areas of workforce development, loan and business assistance, financial assistance and capital development. Using data and infographics, the scorecard helps to sheds light on the progress of newly added department projects such as, current active local and targeted worker hire goals and other areas of investment throughout Los Angeles County.

The result of a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, these analytics help to make better decisions, better enables key strategic initiatives and improves community outcomes. For instance, insights from Los Angeles’ Community Development Authority (LACDA) RENOVATE program for small business renovation projects, and the Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services (WDACS) INVEST program, a population re-entry program, show the potential of targeted neighborhood business investment and revitalization. In short, the Scorecard provides policy makers with relevant information on Los Angeles County’s economic development programs to strengthen the County’s workforce, quality jobs, and incentivize the growth of small businesses.

Below are some of the takeaways from the 2019-2019 Economic Scorecard:

  • BioLA, The LA County Bioscience Investment fund, Bioflex and Bioscience incubators stimulate the future of Los Angeles Counties job growth and will potentially foster and facilitate high paying research based skilled employment. As many of these facilities near completion, the data will continue to support and benefit the Los Angeles’ employment landscape.
  • Capital Development Projects including the Vermont Corridor, including senior affordable housing, county employee relocation and retail are projected to revitalize portions of Korea Town. Other Revitalization projects such as Vermont- Manchester, MLK Jr. Medical Office Building, Fairview Heights TOD Plan, Expo/Crenshaw Site, Willowbrook Joint Development Project, West Los Angeles Courthouse, and Grand Ave projects are all examples of development projects that seek to create jobs, revitalize communities, make transportation more accessible and stimulate the economy.
  • Workforce Development Program (WDACS) offered training and employment placement services to 10,366, with 6,466 successful completions
  • The County has provided a total of 4,243 businesses with technical assistance to grow and maintain their business in FY 2018-2019
  • The County has provided a total of 691 businesses with assistance in opening a business in FY 2018-2019
  • The Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) oversees layoff aversion and provides technical assistance to businesses in financial danger. In FY 2018-2019 WDACS completed:
    1. 1,003 Assessments
    2. 820 Action Plans
    3. 572 Blueprint Service Recommendations
    4. Stabilized 2,395 businesses
    5. Saved 784 jobs

Revitalizing the Vermont Corridor to Serve the Community

As the Vermont Corridor project in Koreatown approaches its countdown to completion in 2021, visitors were treated to a tour to view the project’s substantial progress. Approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2018, this project will serve as the future headquarters for the County of Los Angeles Departments of Mental Health (DMH) and Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services (WDACS).

The new building will help enhance County service delivery while operating sustainably and integrating meaningful and culturally sensitive features of its surrounding community. Gensler, the project’s architect, has designed a state-of-the-art energy efficient glass façade with shading aluminum fins oriented in a diagonal pattern and a 360-degree view of Los Angeles at each office level of the 21-story building. The project is also designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification upon its completion.

Dr. Jonathan Sherin and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas visit the terrace level to view the building’s unique and energy-saving exterior.

The new $305M building that broke ground in 2018 reflects the County’s commitment to invest in the health and well-being of communities. The design ensures its constituents and employees alike can be surrounded by an environment that instills dignity, which is of utmost importance for providing community services such as mental health support. The lobby will host a peer resource center and walk-in mental health services ranging from prevention to recovery.

“The County of Los Angeles is part of the revitalization of communities. It means from an economic point of view, from a cultural point of view, and from the perspective of removing the stigma of mental health—this is a monument to self-esteem and self-worth,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the lead author of the motion for this project.

“It makes a real statement about the importance of mental health—the mental health of our entire community—in particular those who have suffered for too long and have not had the dignity that a building like this and its resources would bring,” said Director of DMH, Dr. Jonathan Sherin, after the tour.

Participants of the tour were able to clearly envision the new opportunities that will be provided to engage the community with resources and support in a compelling environment. Notably, the new facility will enhance and streamline service delivery, particularly to the most vulnerable in the community that DMH and WDACS is committed to serving.

Having both DMH and WDACS headquartered at the same site will enable the departments to significantly improve operational efficiencies and generate cost savings for the County.

“Bringing administrative and programmatic offices in one single building allows for better communication,” said Otto Solarzano, Acting Director of WDACS. Solarzano also noted how this new environment will be conducive to generating creativity and extending the ability of County employees to provide services.

“I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the community,” said Johng Ho Song, President of the Korean Youth and Community Center as he highlighted how this project has spurred collaboration between the County, local non-profits, and the community. “I learned they are going to incorporate direct services in this building and we are going to have this building be a part of the community—I’m really looking forward to that,” commented Song.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas joins Steve Kang from the Korean Youth and Community Center (KYCC), President of KYCC Johng Ho Song, and Executive Director of Special Service for Groups Herbert K. Hatanaka at the lobby construction site.

Earlier this year, Korean American Artist Suzy Taekyung Kim received a major grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture to adorn the ground level with public art to provide a warm welcome to all who visit with her “Canopy of Blooms.” Kim’s art will convey the unique identity of Koreatown that celebrates multi-generational life stories and the endless cycle of life.

Since construction started, the project has employed over 2,400 construction workers with nearly half of the construction workers hired locally. One of these workers is Sylvia Lachapelle, who was recently featured in an installment of the Second District Essential worker series. Sylvia joined the tour and explained how her work to support the intricate electric needs of the building were part of the building’s progress, particularly in the office spaces that will house the work of County employees.

“I think it is a wonderful thing for them to be able to hire people straight from my local community. It feels amazing to be able to say I contributed to the community, and that it’s been a blast just to see how things go up and turn into something wonderful and beautiful that can serve the community,” said Lachapelle.

“This is a big shot in the arm from the economic development perspective,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas when speaking about thousands of jobs associated with this project. “That then will feed the environment with restaurants and other business opportunities.”

The next phases of the Vermont Corridor project will include much-needed affordable housing: 72-unit development and supportive services reserved for economically vulnerable seniors. Another feature of future senior housing project is a 12,500 square foot community center that will be operation by the YMCA. Additional market-rate housing and retail space will also be built to further activate the socioeconomically and culturally diverse neighborhood.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, partners, and community leaders made their way to the top of the Vermont Corridor project.


Planting a SEED in South LA

Planting a SEED in South LA

By Mark Ridley-Thomas and Phillip A. Washington, Special to the Los Angeles Sentinel

Rendering of the SEED School by Abode Communities

On the northeast corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues, a little over four acres of land have remained blighted and mostly vacant since the 1992 Civil Unrest, when the shopping center that once stood there was set ablaze.

For the past three decades, as the world around it has continued to turn, this small commercial strip in South Los Angeles has remained frozen in time—an unfortunate and sobering reminder of the anger and desperation that led to neighbors looting and setting fire to businesses, many of which were owned by those of a different color. It has come to symbolize the lack of economic growth and opportunity that far too many corners of South Los Angeles still contend with today.

The protests and civil unrest that we have seen across this country, and across Los Angeles this month, are visceral reminders that progress is not inevitable, that addressing the deep racial and economic inequities that continue to define our region and much of the world must come from the hard work of our action and begin at home.

But there is no reason that this plot of land on the corner of Vermont and Manchester should continue to sit vacant for decades to come.

In 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided to invest in the change that was long overdue. The Board took the unprecedented and bold step to acquire this property by eminent domain with a commitment to rebirth it with all of the elements necessary to revitalize a community. We will soon break ground on a model transit- oriented development. It will include 180 units of affordable housing, community-serving retail, a transportation-focused job training center, and a plaza that will connect to the future rapid bus line slated to travel down Vermont, connecting Hollywood to the South Bay. But the centerpiece of the new development will be the SEED School of Los Angeles.

Rendering of the SEED School front courtyard by Abode Communities

With a planned opening in August 2022, SEED LA will be California’s first public college- prep boarding high school. The admissions lottery will be weighted for students from households that are eligible for mainstream benefits, experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, or have an immediate family member who is incarcerated, as well as students with a history of involvement with the child protection or juvenile justice system. Young people who have demonstrated tremendous resilience in the face of adversity hold enormous potential to become key leaders in our community, if given access to appropriate opportunities and tools. These Resilience Youth will receive the resources – both in and out of the classroom – to prepare them for college and careers.

We could not imagine a better partner in making this vision a reality. The SEED Foundation has the track record – three campuses on the east coast that produce graduates who enroll in college at a rate of 94%, and graduate from college at 3.5 times the national rate for low-income, first generation students.

SEED LA promises to prepare its scholars not just for college, but through a unique partnership with LA Metro and LA County, is committed to educating and exposing students to careers within the transportation and infrastructure sectors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington

This will happen not just through interdisciplinary courses in STEM fields, but through a mentor program linking students to professionals in the industry, internships at Metro and with industry partners, and field trips both locally and globally to give students a deeper understanding and appreciation for the infrastructure that we all rely on, each and every day.

All over this country, infrastructure projects are being designed, built and managed in underserved communities by people who are neither indigenous to these communities nor reflective of these communities’ demographics. SEED LA will expose students to an array of professional fields ranging from communications and planning to design and finance, with the intention of creating a farm system comprised of a new generation of Angelenos who represent the ethnic and geographic diversity of our County and can guide this work for decades to come.

This community and many others across our County have waited far too long for meaningful change. But we know that change doesn’t roll in on the heels of inevitability. Lasting change happens when civil society, governments, philanthropy and corporations step forward and invest in ideas, institutions, communities and people who can truly bring about a more just society.

This moment must inspire all of us to pursue tangible change in our communities, and we intend to finally seed that change, right on the corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the Second District, and member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

Phillip A. Washington is the Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

More Careers for a Cause

After seeing the success of its first graduates, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is bringing back the Careers for a Cause program which trains people in South Los Angeles for essential jobs in the homeless services industry. The inspiring stories of those first graduates, many of whom have experienced homelessness themselves, became the subject of a special report by reporter Thomas Curwen in the Los Angeles Times.

Recruitment is now underway for the second cohort of students to begin the eight-week non-certificate program in September 2020. Interested applicants must register here by July 9th to virtually attend an information session.

As a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, Careers for a Cause is launching an online curriculum and providing students with Chromebooks, in addition to career exploration and assessment, job shadowing, skills training, on-the-job coaching, and job retention support. Students will also receive a weekly stipend and wraparound support services.

“I urge you to join us in the fight against homelessness by partnering with Careers for a Cause,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged both prospective students and their prospective employers in the homeless services industry. “With the pandemic further exacerbating homelessness, unemployment and economic inequity, we need your expertise, experience and exceptional insight more than ever.”

Algenia Harding, one of Careers for a Cause’s first graduates who later become one of its first employees, said, “It not only helped me professionally but personally. To me, it opened the door to understanding how the system actually works. But what I liked most was that it helped our class to understand how to maximize our lived experience, our passions, and what we would have called failures and struggles —  and make them marketable.”

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph. D., Executive Director of the nonprofit homeless services agency St. Joseph Center, said,   “We believe that staffing our teams with people with lived experience is critically important. Staff members who have been homeless, or maybe faced generations of poverty, bring a perspective to the work that is profound. We also know how impactful it is for people who are rebuilding their lives to have employment that matches their expertise and gives them a chance to reshape their future. By hiring people with lived experience, we give them that opportunity. ”

Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum- President & CEO, St. Joseph Center

“The Careers for a Cause educational program provides South L.A. residents with the opportunity to capitalize on their personal experience and the challenges that they have overcome,” said Effie Turnbull Sanders, Executive Director of the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z), which is leading the recruitment effort. “Over the course of eight weeks, students will develop their personal agency skills to affect change within their community, and learn to use these skills to build fulfilling careers.”

50 homeless service agencies and organizations from across Los Angeles County attended a recent webinar hosted by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to encourge participation in Careers for a Cause. The list included Chrysalis, SCHARP, Wellnest, Goodwill Southern California, PATH, HOPICS, SRO Housing Corporation, Midnight Mission and countless others. Almost all have signed up to partner with Careers for a Cause as guest speakers and mock interviewers, and to provide internship and employment opportunities. Many also indicated they would like to get involved by providing employment opportunities to C4C graduates.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas invested $100,000 of his discretionary fund to develop the first cohort of Careers for a Cause in October 2019. The classes were held at Los Angeles Southwest College in partnership with the Los Angeles County’s Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services Department (WDACS),  tSt. Joseph Center and SLATE-Z. Several of the first graduates have already been hired as case managers and other workers in the homeless services industry.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has approved an additional $650,000 in funding to support five additional cohorts over the next two years. Enhanced program components include a full-time case manager, job developer and weekly training stipends.