Saturday, December 20, 2008

Honoring 500 Seniors with a Dance to Call Their Own

We had our 2nd Annual Senior Snow Ball on Thursday and it was an amazing evening. We bussed in hundreds of seniors from all over CD14 – from Eagle Rock and Highland Park, to Boyle Heights and El Sereno. A big thanks to the L.A. Presbyterian Church for hosting our dance once again. This is truly a special event, where we get to honor our Seniors for all they’ve done for us this and every year. When you think of all the sacrifices they have made to make our lives better, hosting a dinner and dance is the least we could do for them. We had great food, a great band (Chico – they’re incredible – they can play everything from Swing to Salsa), and most importantly, a great group of Seniors from about 20 senior clubs and organizations throughout CD14. Our Seniors were all dressed up and ready to dance, which they did plenty of. Growing up, I remember my grandparents, they didn’t care if I was “naughty or nice,” they loved me unconditionally and I’ll never forget that. And so it’s very important to me to honor these special people, who often don’t get the credit they deserve in the hustle and bustle of every day life. A big thanks to my staff for keeping high spirits and ending our month-long holiday calendar of events on such a high note. I appreciate it and I know our Seniors certainly do too. Esmeralda Bermudez from the Los Angeles Times wrote a wonderful story about a group of Senior ladies from El Sereno who came to our event. Lastly if you’re lucky enough to have a Senior in your life this holiday season, don’t forget to give them a big hug and thank them for all they’ve done.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kids, Santa, Holiday Lights, Snow and 8,000 Toys!

We held our Third Annual Bridge Lighting and Toy Giveaway on the 4th Street bridge this month (due to Gold Line construction on 1st Street Bridge). We had snow, Santa, games and most importantly (for the kids), toys! We did it again the following week. This time we were in El Sereno for our Winter Wonderland on Huntington Drive. The biggest difference between the two events was the weather. It was really chilly at the El Sereno toy giveaway (great news for all the kids playing in the snow, which was slow to melt). At the two events combined, we gave away about 8,000 toys to some happy boys and girls. And I know in this economy, for some kids, these might be the only toy they get. I want to thank all the wonderful organizations, businesses and volunteers who helped out. A special shout out to our U.S. Marines who hand-delivered toys in El Sereno. Happy Holidays, everyone. Be safe, take care of one another and remember in good times and in bad, if we have the love of our family and friends, we are truly blessed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

From Housing Trucks, to Housing Kids and Dreams

The City Council unanimously approved a 50-year agreement between the L.A. Rec and Parks and Legacy L.A., a nonprofit organization, which plans to turn the old federal armory at Hazard Park in Boyle Heights, into a multifaceted youth center, serving the youth of Ramona Gardens and surrounding communities. I have backed this plan from the beginning and I know that the people of Ramona Gardens are very excited to see this program get off the ground. They had the help of 10 teens who were awarded fellowships this summer through a grant from The California Endowment. The kids attend local schools and have participated in a community study to determine what programs residents want to be implemented at the new facility. Growing up in Boyle Heights, I know firsthand the value of good, solid programming that gives kids real alternatives to gang violence. And now, instead of housing trucks, that old armory will house children and God willing, their hopes and dreams. Adelante!

Monday, December 8, 2008

$50,000 Reward Leads Police to Alleged Murder Suspect

Just a week after Fernando Garcia was cruelly beaten to death and his body found in a Boyle Heights dumpster, I was asked by the Hollenbeck Police Department to get the City Council’s approval for a reward for the arrest of the person responsible. I pushed it through as fast as I could; we held a press conference with police and Fernando’s distraught family and announced a $50,000 reward. Very soon after that, a person saw the announcement on the news and told police where the lead suspect could be found. He was arrested in Las Vegas and brought to Los Angeles where he’ll stand trial. I want to thank Hollenbeck Police for their work on this case, the brave Garcia family who came forward at a very difficult time to plea for the public’s help in putting their son’s killer behind bars. I hope that this arrest, in some small way, can help them begin to heal. My thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Hillside Ordinance Will Protect Hillsides and Residents

The City Council recently enacted the Northeast Hillside Ordinance, which will bring much-needed uniformity and safety standards to new construction on hillside properties in El Sereno, Hermon, Lincoln Heights, Monterey Hills and Glassell Park. This ordinance will protect the natural habitat and picturesque views that residents enjoy, while keeping them safe from unchecked development and haphazard construction. Before the ordinance, builders could remove as much dirt from our hillsides as they wanted, creating eyesores and dangerous conditions. Supported by Councilmember Ed Reyes and me through our work on the Planning & Land Use Management Committee, as well as fire officials, environmentalist and residents, this new ordinance will place ceilings on building and retaining wall heights and square footage for new construction beginning Jan. 9, 2009. This new policy will bring our community more in line with similar, effective standards already in place in surrounding communities.

Monday, December 1, 2008

In Honor of Ross Valencia, ‘Mr. Boyle Heights’

Legendary activist and political veteran Ross Valencia passed away recently. He was a fantastic man who did so much for Boyle Heights and the entire City of Los Angeles. In Boyle Heights, which is an incredibly active community with many outstanding individuals doing great things, Ross was known as “Mr. Boyle Heights,” which tells you a lot about his commitment to his neighborhood. He founded the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce and co-founded the L.A. City Chicano Employees Association. He worked in government, including serving as former CD14 Councilmember Art Snyder’s Chief Deputy for 11 years. A Navy veteran, Ross was a member of the American G.I. Forum and a whole bunch of other organizations. A short time before he passed, he told me a story about how when he came back from World War II, he tried to rent an apartment in Boyle Heights, but they wouldn’t rent to him because he was Mexican American. Well some time later, Ross went back and bought the house right next to the same apartment building. He was a great man who will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife Carmen, 5 children, 14 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. We told him before he died that we’re going to name a park after him, and I’m going to make sure we do just that. Ross Valencia was 81.

Thankful to Help this Thanksgiving Season

This year’s Operation Gobble Gobble was a little more difficult to put together than in year’s past. My staff had to work a lot harder to find community partners and businesses that were able to donate turkeys, fixings and other items for our annual event. In this terrible economy, some businesses simply could not afford to help. But on the other side of that, we found that people, many who’ve lost their jobs, needed the help this year more than ever. We’ll we pulled it off (thanks Food 4 Less and everybody else) and were able to able to give away about 5,000 turkeys in Boyle Heights and El Sereno. At our El Sereno event we brought residents from Eagle Rock and Highland Park in on buses. As a kid, my family sometimes depended on events like this to help make ends meet. I’ve stood in lines waiting to get free food. That’s why it’s important for me to make it a fun event and not just a give away. We had photographers taking holiday pictures with families and their children, so they’d have a nice memento. My feeling is we’re all in this together, and we need to take care of one another as much as we can. Happy Thanksgiving, every one.