$1 Million Grant for BioFutures Program

BioscienceLA recently announced the launch of its BioFutures Program with a $1 million grant from LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to grow opportunities for underrepresented students in the life sciences industry.

“BioscienceLA’s mission is to place the LA life sciences ecosystem at the forefront of global innovation,” Ridley-Thomas said. “BioFutures is building relationships with local community colleges, growing employers, and established companies like Amgen, with the aim to create hundreds of opportunities over the coming years.”

BioFutures is a competitive program to connect students from underrepresented backgrounds with internships and career development programming.

“Our mission relies on our commitment to enabling diversity, amplifying science, and accelerating collaboration,” BioscienceLA CEO Dave Whelan said. “We strongly believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion must be reflected in the training, recruitment, and retention strategies of all stakeholders.”

“Eight LA community colleges currently offer training for internships and employment in bioscience, in addition to preparation in biology and chemistry for transfer degrees,” shares Wendie Johnson, Lab Director at Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator. “BioFutures is an impressive opportunity for nontraditional students who might not have the same access to getting their foot in the door and starting their career in life sciences.”

Interns will gain further insight into the LA life sciences ecosystem, via subsidized internships at local companies (including biotech, medtech, and digital health, in both technical and non-technical roles), industry mentorship and networking opportunities, and an alumni program.

“We moved to LA because, in recent years, it has become a hub for the future of healthcare,” said Jo Bhakdi, CEO of Quantgene, a biotech that relocated to Santa Monica from the Bay Area. “A large piece of this comes from the diverse and innovative minds that have gathered in this area. As an international company with a multicultural background, we recognize the importance of a program like BioFutures, not just in strengthening individual companies like ours, but the whole LA ecosystem at large.”

“Our program focuses on exposing students to local life science companies, while growing a more diverse recruitment pipeline from which companies can source talent,” Whelan explains. “Every internship funded is not just an investment in the student themselves, but also in the student’s school and in the hiring company.”

“This is just the start,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I would like to challenge companies and funders in LA to step up to support this program with me.”

Ridley-Thomas Pushes for Increased Affordable Housing at Crenshaw Crossing

Following a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the mixed-use development planned for Metro- and County-owned lots at Exposition and Crenshaw Blvd is on track to become affordable for 200 future low and moderate income households. At the junction where the Exposition and Crenshaw Lines meet, the site is anticipated to become a hub for public transit within the region. Watt Companies, in partnership with the West Angeles Community Development Corporation, has proposed developing 40,000 square feet of commercial retail, a community space, and a 25,000 square-foot grocery store on the ground floor with 400 units of housing on the upper floors.

Initially, 81 units were planned as affordable housing. However, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas pushed to expand the number of affordable housing units within the development to ensure that the project would be accessible to households at a variety of incomes, consistent with the character and desires of the surrounding community.

Rendering of Crenshaw Crossing. Source: Watt Companies

“We have but one opportunity to get the development on this catalytic corner where the Crenshaw and Exposition Lines meet right. And right means building a model transit-oriented community with high-quality housing that the community that calls the Crenshaw Corridor home can afford,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am pleased to partner with Watt Companies and the West Angeles Community Development Corporation to help advance this community vision and ensure that 200 of the units will be affordable to a diverse array of low-income, moderate, and working-class individuals and families.”

There are approximately 7,100 people currently living in 2,700 households located within a half-mile of the station area, of which 53% are renter-occupied households. The median household income in the surrounding area is $39,000 per year.

“As a long-term stakeholder in this community, I look forward to the delivery of Crenshaw Crossing as it will bring much-needed new housing to the neighborhood at rents that are affordable to a wide range of people who live here,” said West Adams Neighborhood Council Land Use Chair Eva Marie Aubry.

As part of the development guidelines established by Metro at the initiation of this project, local residents such as Aubry noted the need for market rate housing as well as housing affordable to residents of the existing community, including seniors and working families. A development that incorporated housing accessible for people who have lived in the surrounding community was seen as a critical component of the development strategy.

“Various levels of rent will encourage a thriving commercial, residential and family atmosphere to the area,” said Lynetta McElroy, a leader of the Western Quadrant of Leimert Park and the president of Grayburn Avenue Block Club.

In addition to providing retail space for local small businesses to thrive, a new grocery store is anticipated to increase access to healthful foods in the surrounding area. Metro has estimates that the Crenshaw and Expo Lines will have a combined estimated ridership of over 45,000 persons a day, many of whom will have the opportunity to patronize the retail uses on the ground floor of the development.

As part of the motion, the Supervisor also allocated $2 million to support the construction of the publicly accessible transit plaza that will connect the development to the rail stations.“Watt Companies, together with our partner, the West Angeles Community Development Corporation, remains committed to delivering a project that serves everyone in the Crenshaw community,” said Watt Companies CEO Nadine Watt.

Rendering of Crenshaw Crossing. Source: Watt Companies

A “Sneak Peek” at Newly Improved Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro Board member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington on a visit to the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station along the A Line for a sneak-peek of the new state-of-the-art Rosa Parks Customer Center (RPCC).

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks in front of the Rosa Parks Customer Center at the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Station, flanked by (L-R) Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington, Mayor and Metro Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker. Photo credit: Metro

The Rosa Parks Customer Center and the Transit Court is now open to serve the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Mobility Hub is anticipated to open in mid-November. Once it opens, working hours will be 24/7.

“The Willowbrook community in the heart of South LA has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past decade, thanks to more than $1 billion in investments towards the MLK Medical Campus, affordable apartments, parks and other projects,” LA County Supervisor and Metro Board Director Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “With the newly improved Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Station, we now have the perfect gateway to and from the rest of the region, with a beautiful design, safety features and amenities that both riders and residents will appreciate.”

The station went through a $128-million renovation and modernization project that includes a public plaza area, customer center, transit security center, transit court and mobility hub. Metro is putting the finishing touches on the buildings.

“Public transportation is more than just a way to move around our region — it’s a vehicle for opportunity, equity, and a better quality of life,” said Metro Board Chair and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The new Rosa Parks Customer Center will help transform one of the busiest transit hubs in our region into a state-of-the-art station to travel, transfer, and navigate any issues that riders may have with the system.”

Photo credit: Metro

The $10.25 million TIGER funding provided by the Federal Transit Administration made possible the improvements to the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station as part of the New Blue Improvements Project creating an improved environment for transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists who access the station. The project improvements aim to foster livability and economic vitality through promoting equitable development that retains the area’s unique culture and neighborhood character.

Other improvements to the station include an extended rail platform and new southern entrance to the platform. There is also new artwork, lighting, landscaping, signage, upgraded elevators, escalators, stairs and mezzanine between the A and C Line platforms.

The new facilities at the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station are part of the New Blue Improvements Project State of Good Repair Program that also included a $350-million overhaul of the entire A Line in 2019 to improve train service.

“Metro is investing in our communities of color and improving their transit experience in concrete and measurable ways,” said Metro Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker. “This is especially important as Metro focuses on equity to help make our region’s underserved communities better.  Metro has built a new public transit space at Willowbrook/Rosa Parks that clearly enhances the quality of life for transit riders in South Los Angeles.”

Photo credit: Metro

At the new Rosa Parks Customer Center transit riders can buy and load transit passes onto their TAP cards, obtain information about getting around on the Metro system and submit applications for Reduced Fare. This will be Metro’s fifth customer center joining existing ones at Union Station East, Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, East Los Angeles and Wilshire/Vermont.

“The improvements to Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station and all its amenities are intended to be a welcoming gateway to the Metro system,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “This community has supported us with great patronage and ridership for many years — and I’m pleased to see their faith in us rewarded with a vastly-improved station.”

The Mobility Hub will offer light bicycle repairs, maintenance and storage. Other mobility components and amenities will also be program in the near future to enhance commuters’ experience.

The Transit Court operates in a COVID-19 compliant manner with live telephonic service from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, answering questions about customer code of conduct, citations, fine amounts, payment of fines, appeals process, community service and the scheduling of hearings.

Metro will also have a Transit Security office just across from the Customer Center. Security guards will be patrolling the station and also providing security to the Customer Center and Transit Court.

Safety and security at the station have also been enhanced with over 150 new security cameras, an upgraded LED lighting system that provides brighter conditions and better illumination, and a new public address system.

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Metro commissioned two artworks for the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station Improvement Project as part of a range of improvements to the existing station.

Gifts of Freedom and Knowledge, a photo collage mural by artist George Evans in the customer center, greets transit customers with its layered composition celebrating South Los Angeles’ distinct people, neighborhoods and cultural traditions. In keeping with a commitment to cultivate young artists, Evans held arts programs engaging youth from local schools and organizations.

“My role is that of a Shaman who reflects and expresses the life of the village,” said Evans.

Slated for installation in early 2021 is a series of sculptural parasols titled Second Line by artists Jamex and Einar de la Torre. The sculptures will front the Rosa Parks Customer Center and offer shade and enjoyment for the community at future events.

The artists recognized that parasols are featured in processions in the ancient and modern worlds. The artwork pays homage to the significance of Parks’ actions by including her iconic image and several significant symbols from the civil rights movement in the patterning of the parasol canopy. The parasols reflect folk art traditions, referencing the warmth of home and strength of communal gathering in the form of papel picado and doilies.

Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Station. Photo credit: Metro

First Virtual Bioscience Forum Addresses Urgent Health and Racial Crises

Scientists, engineers and executives from Los Angeles-based bioscience companies painted a vivid virtual picture of the industry’s racial inequities as well as the ability to save lives while creating jobs within the booming bioscience industry.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and BioscienceLA hosted the first ever virtual Bioscience Forum: Advancing Diversity and Equity.  The virtual Forum brought together thought leaders in the life sciences and healthcare industries to discuss steps to reverse healthcare disparities, increase minority representation, provide local jobs, and combat the world’s most vexing and urgent health crises.

“Not only is our country in the middle of a significant reckoning over its history of racism and injustice, but this reckoning is occurring during a pandemic that has not shown any signs of relenting,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “In the push for testing, vaccines, and therapies, bioscience will play a significant role in any path forward, but the truth is communities of color are significantly underrepresented in the life science industry, and innovations to solve our most vexing crises will suffer as a result.”

African Americans account for less than 4% of the bio sector workforce.  The numbers are even more discouraging at the executive level with less than 1% of African American representation. For the Latino community, just 5% are represented in non-executive roles and 3% in executive roles.

Years ago, bioscience did not have as strong of a presence in Los Angeles County, especially in the Second District, making it more difficult for constituents to connect with the job opportunities arising from the industry’s steady growth. But five years ago, that changed with a motion in 2015 by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Following the motion’s approval, the Board of Supervisors directed the County to study key industries for job growth and economic development. The result was the development of a Countywide Bioscience Initiative that included a goal to create a workforce pipeline to diversify the industry.

“The County recognizes the moral imperative of this mandate for equality and to that end we have funded and helped develop the Bio-Flex program,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. Bio-Flex, a first-in-the-nation apprenticeship training program, was launched in partnership with the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, Cal State Dominguez Hills, West LA College and the bioscience industry itself, including companies such as Bachem, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Takeda to prepare persons of color and the economically disadvantaged for jobs in the bioscience industry.

“Bio-Flex is an employer-driven system,” said South Bay Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Jan Vogel.  “It is a career pathway program allowing students to get on the job training.”

“I learned the value of job readiness and explored the intersections of business, chemistry and biology,” said Bio-Flex graduate Aria Fulton who is now pursing a degree in biology at Loyola Marymount University.

This year’s Forum was part of the comprehensive countywide effort to increase local opportunities in the field of bioscience, which is increasingly important during the current economic downturn. In March of this year the County announced the first Bioscience Investment Fund through a public private partnership with bioscience investment firm MarsBio.

“Supporting a cohesive innovation ecosystem requires a coordinated approach to funding, space, and talent, among other areas,” explained David J. Whelan, Chief Executive Officer of BioscienceLA. “The County’s commitment to growing the entire sector has jumpstarted so many related initiatives, including BioscienceLA, and the momentum is increasing rapidly. Diversity and inclusion can accelerate innovation, and we look forward to continuing today’s conversations.”

While this was the first virtual forum, it is the third event of its kind in the County.  Last year’s in person forum was held at that hot-house of high-tech innovation, Google’s Spruce Goose Hanger. Last year’s forum highlighted how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the medical field, with much of that transformative energy taking place in Los Angeles County.  And this year’s virtual forum was just one week after the first Los Angeles County Youth Bioscience Summit, focusing on ways Los Angeles County has invested in bioscience, highlighting strategies to be competitive for entry-level jobs and the various ways a degree in the life sciences touches a wide range of industries. Over 200 students from high schools and community colleges in Los Angeles County were in attendance.

“Our mission today is to explore ways that we can change this picture for a more inclusive tomorrow,” concluded the Supervisor.

Governor’s Homekey to Create Hundreds of Affordable Apartments in LA County

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the latest round of funding for Homekey, California’s innovative, nation-leading $600 million program to purchase and rehabilitate housing – including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties – and convert them into permanent, long-term housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

To date, Los Angeles County is set to receive $60 million to purchase eight motels with a combined total of 631 rooms. Each room will be converted into affordable apartments with supportive services and rent subsidies funded through the County’s Measure H and state and federal sources.

“Behind every allocation we make for Homekey is the story of a Californian who will no longer have to sleep in a tent, in a car or on the street,” said Governor Newsom. “The partnerships with local leaders and their innovative approaches to homeless solutions are inspiring. From helping victims of domestic violence, to LGBTQ youth, to seniors, we’ve seen bold proposals that help a cross section of Californians struggling to find permanent housing.”

“I applaud Governor Newsom for his unwavering leadership and investing much needed resources to combat this crisis within a crisis – homelessness amid a pandemic,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who championed Measure H and whose district will have three Homekey sites.
“Project Roomkey enabled LA County to bring 4,000 vulnerable people indoors in just months – an unprecedented accomplishment that protected their health and that of the larger community while simultaneously providing a lifeline to struggling businesses,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We are ready for the next phase, Homekey. We have eight motels lined up to be converted into affordable apartments with services, a key component of our COVID-19 recovery rehousing plan.”

The Governor also announced a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to developing affordable housing, to distribute $45 million in funding – $20 million from Blue Shield of California and $25 million from Kaiser Permanente – to support operating subsidies for Homekey projects. This funding will provide critical support to local jurisdictions to ensure that those housed through this initiative receive critical services like case management, job training, substance abuse counseling and more.

Building on the success of Project Roomkey, Governor Newsom in July announced the availability of $600 million in funding for Homekey, the next phase in the state’s response protecting Californians experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, following approval by the Legislature as part of the 2020-21 annual state budget. Of that, $550 million will be provided to cities and counties by California’s direct allocation of the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds, with an additional $50 million provided by the state to supplement the acquisition and provide initial operating funds. The Homekey funds are being expended in compliance with federal regulations in response to COVID-19.

HCD began accepting applications for Homekey on July 22, 2020. Additional awards are expected weekly until all $600 million has been awarded. The response from local governments and housing providers was significant – demonstrating the strength of these state-local partnerships. By the application deadline of September 29, a total of 147 applications had been received from 73 entities statewide, with over $1 billion requested.