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L.A. Councilmen seek more oversight of land-use decisions at City Hall

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Councilman David Ryu asked his colleagues today to support a proposal to create an office that would investigate land-use and development decisions on projects that require City Council approval.

In May, Ryu introduced a motion to establish an Office of Anti-Corruption and Transparency, or LA ACT, which would have the power to investigate city officials — elected or not — and their land-use decisions.

The proposal will first be heard by the council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Tuesday.

“Doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing is ignoring the crisis before us, and doing nothing is costing us the trust of our city’s people,” Ryu said. “I cannot believe that City Hall can do the people’s business without restoring that trust.”

Ryu also recently introduced a motion to change the City Charter to remove the power that council members have to interfere in city Planning Commission decisions.

Former Councilman Mitch Englander agreed to plead guilty earlier this year to corruption charges for falsifying land-use documents, and current Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested a week ago on federal bribery and racketeering charges and was suspended from the City Council last Tuesday.

“This is why I have been putting forth legislation since 2015 to increase transparency and root out corruption and why we are here today, to make it absolutely clear that this is the first step in cleaning up City Hall and to meet this moment with action,” Ryu said. “Whether this lives in the Ethics Commission or Controller’s Office or on its own, the undeniable fact is we need more oversight, not less.”

Ryu also said the City Council should have at least 25 members, which would be proportionally similar to New York City, which has 51 Council members for its 8.4 million residents. He said expanding the City Council would give residents better and more diverse representation.

The Los Angeles City Council has had 15 members since 1925, when the city’s population was just about 1 million.

Ryu was joined at a Monday morning news conference by Councilman Paul Krekorian, who said he will introduce a motion Tuesday to enact a series of requirements for developers and City Council members.

Krekorian said his motion would not allow developers to profit off projects that have been found to be involved in fraudulent practices, and would direct city staff to report on whether the city can suspend certificates of occupancy on fraudulent projects, examine ways to hold developers accountable for their actions and seeks ways to punish developers who have engaged in fraud.

“I think we can enact all the restrictions on campaign contributions in the world, but when billions of dollars are at stake and corrupt individuals are involved, we need to take action,” Krekorian said. “Until we take that step, we won’t be able to deter this kind of conduct.”

The City Council voted in December to prevent developers who have project applications pending at City Hall from making campaign donations to elected officials or candidates for municipal office.

Ryu also said he will be working on further reforms that will be introduced at the end of summer, and he called for action on legislation to publicly finance elections in Los Angeles.

L.A. Department of Transportation to resume some parking enforcement July 6

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles Department of Transportation today announced that beginning July 6, the city will resume its enforcement of certain parking regulations that were relaxed during the Safer at Home orders.

Enforcement will resume for the relaxed categories of:

— Residential street sweeping;

— Peak/rush-hour and anti-gridlock zone restrictions;

— Abandoned vehicles (72-hour rule);

— Expired registrations; and,

— Loading zones (white curb) will resume the 10-minute grace period.

LADOT will continue to allow relaxed enforcement for:

— “No Overnight/Oversized Vehicle” parking zones;

— Vehicles with recently expired Preferential Parking Permits;

— The payment due date for existing citations will be extended until Aug. 1; and,

— Late payment penalties on existing citations will be delayed until Aug. 1.

People who can document that they are unemployed are eligible to have late penalties waived if they pay the base citation by the end of the 2020 calendar year.

People who want to fill out an “unemployment waiver” can contact LADOT’s customer care hotline at 866-561-9742.

People who have experienced financial hardship are eligible for a payment plan and can contact LADOT at the same number.

All other parking enforcement categories will continue to be enforced as they have been throughout the Safer at Home order. These categories include:

— Metered parking;

— Time limits within preferential parking districts for vehicles without a valid or recently expired permit;

— Posted time limits in residential and commercial areas;

— All posted temporary “No Parking” signs;

— Vehicles that block emergency access, such as alleyways and fire hydrants;

— Colored curb zones; and,

— Parking restrictions for city-owned lots.

In addition, LADOT will continue to provide free temporary pick-up zone parking signs for eligible retail and food service providers. Businesses can apply for a pick-up zone on the LADOT website, ladot.lacity.org.

Orange County reports 17 new COVID-19 deaths in deadliest week

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SANTA ANA (CNS) – Orange County health officials today reported 17 COVID-19 fatalities, raising this week’s death toll to 56, the most in a week since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Moreover, the county has also exceeded two important metrics that will trigger more scrutiny from the California Department of Public Health.

The county’s rate of positive tests for COVID-19 is 8.5%, exceeding the state standard of 8%. The county’s case rate of 97.9 per 100,000 people is also higher than the state’s threshold of 25 per 100,000.

Last week, the county reported 50 coronavirus fatalities, and 41 the week before. Of the county’s 323 COVID-19 deaths, 170 were residents of nursing homes and three were transients.

The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported 479 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total to 11,960, as well as a significant jump in hospitalizations.

The number of hospitalized patients rose from 394 Thursday to 451, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 147 to 166.

The county, however, is in good shape when it comes to hospital bed capacity and ventilators, according to the HCA.

The county has 37.7% intensive care unit beds available, higher than the state threshold of 20%, and the county has 66.7% ventilators available, higher than the state threshold of 25%, according to the agency.

County officials had a meeting with city leaders Friday and discussed ways they can promote more social distancing techniques, such as mask wearing, to help slow the spread of the virus, Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, the president of the California State Association of Counties, said state officials may consider rolling back access to the beaches as a way to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“The governor is looking a positivity rates for the counties and hospital rates statewide are up 30%, so the governor is very concerned,” Bartlett said.

State public health officials have been monitoring beach activity recently, Bartlett said.

“We’re hearing through the grapevine something may be under consideration” regarding beach access along the coast statewide, Bartlett said.

As the county rolled out a newly redesigned website Friday evening, health officials recalculated the number of tests done to date from 231,902 reported on Thursday down to 207,720.

The county reported 6,763 documented recoveries.

The total number of Orange County coronavirus cases break down to 50% men and 50% women, but men account for 56% of the deaths, according to the HCA.

Santa Ana leads all county cities with 2,515 cases, followed by Anaheim with 2,289. The high numbers in Orange County’s two largest cities are attributed to their population size and the presence of multiple nursing homes in both cities.

Anaheim, Santa Ana and Huntington Beach account for 82, 81 and 37 deaths, respectively, and Los Alamitos and Fullerton 14 apiece.

In Orange County’s jails, 395 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus with 387 having recovered. Eight inmates are experiencing symptoms are in medical quarantine and officials are awaiting the results of 26 tests.

Orange County congressional representatives on Friday sent a letter to county officials critical of how many tests have been administered to residents compared with other counties.

The letter was signed by Reps. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, Gil Cisneros, D-Fullerton, Katie Porter, D-Irvine, Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Linda Sanchez, D-Norwalk.

The congressional representatives, who met with county officials after requesting more information about the county’s testing programs last month, say some residents continue to face obstacles to getting a test.

“Fast, accessible and widespread testing is critical to protecting public health and preventing a resurgence as we continue to reopen,” the letter reads.

“Ensuring accessible testing will not only reassure the public on behalf of businesses seeking to reopen, but will also support the contact tracing needed to control future outbreaks.”

Bartlett said anyone in Orange County can get a test regardless of their ability to pay.

“We have 15 state testing locations within Orange County and multiple drive-through locations in hospitals and clinics, so virtually anyone who wants to be tested can get tested,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said it is not fair to compare Orange County’s testing rates with other counties.

“Every county is unique relative to COVID-19,” Bartlett said. “In other counties they have a different demographic. For instance, Imperial County has a high agricultural demographic and their healthcare system is overwhelmed.”

Orange County has relatively less transients and a healthier demographic than many other counties, Bartlett said.

Man arrested for allegedly racing then fleeing when opponent fatally crashed

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 20-year-old man is behind bars today for allegedly street racing another driver then fleeing the scene when the other motorist fatally crashed near Beverly Hills.

Jefferson Guardadonajera was arrested Tuesday about 8:25 a.m. near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and North Hamilton Drive in Beverly Hills, according to Officer Tony Im of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The crash occurred at 5:50 a.m. on June 19, while the two cars were traveling at a high rate of speed northwest on San Vicente Boulevard, west of McCarthy Vista, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Guardadonajera, driving a Toyota Scion, was racing 43-year-old Jason Lee Ross, who was driving a Chevrolet Camaro, police said.

Ross lost control, hit a curb and “multiple fixed objects,” which caused him to be ejected from the car, police said. He died at the scene.

Guardadonajera allegedly did not stop to render aid or identify himself to law enforcement, as required by law.

Guardadonajera was booked for vehicular manslaughter, Im said.

L.A. City Attorney says staff is looking online for illegal fireworks sales

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – City Attorney Mike Feuer said today his office is scouring the internet for sales of illegal fireworks in the Los Angeles area and reminded people that pyrotechnic devices can have negative effects on pets, military veterans and other vulnerable populations.

“If you or your family are feeling under siege by illegal fireworks right now, you’re not alone,” Feuer said. “It seems like they’re exploding in every neighborhood of our city. I hear them every night. Nobody knows why this year of all years this phenomenon is occurring, not just across the city of Los Angeles but across the nation.”

All fireworks in Los Angeles are illegal for sale or purchase, Feuer said, and using or selling them could result in a citation from the Los Angeles Police Department or a misdemeanor charge carrying a fine of up to $1,000 and potential six-month jail term.

“Every year, thousands and thousands of people are hospitalized because of illegal fireworks, and they’re losing fingers and arms and legs and their sight,” the city attorney said. “So it’s a very serious public health issue, and of course this year the coronavirus creates all kinds of new issues because emergency rooms are crowded with people suffering from COVID-19 and other illnesses.”

Feuer said his office is sending out cease-and-desist orders on illegal internet sales of fireworks in Los Angeles.

“Veterans with post-traumatic stress (disorder) are very adversely affected by the random setting off of fireworks,” Feuer said. “In past years, people with PTSD could anticipate the Fourth of July, they could prepare for it.”

Feuer also said children with special needs can be affected by random explosions they’re not expecting.

The city attorney said his office is already taking on a few cases related to the sales of illegal fireworks, but he said he could not yet discuss the details.

Neighborhood prosecutors will also be pushing the message for people to refrain from buying illegal fireworks, and a public service announcement will be released soon on the City Attorney’s Office social media platforms.

Annette Ramirez, Los Angeles Animal Services’ field operations director, said fireworks can scare dogs to the point where they escape their house or yard.

“Even if your pet doesn’t seem like it’s upset by the fireworks, they can still be harmed,” Ramirez said, adding that ingesting fireworks can be fatal to them.

“If your pet is has to be outdoors, please try to keep your gates closed and check to make sure that they’re in proper working order,” she said.

Ramirez said people should make sure they have their pet’s registration information updated, as more fireworks are likely to be set off as the Fourth of July gets closer.

If people have illegal fireworks, they can turn them in without penalty to the LAPD, Feuer said. To report illegal fireworks, people can go to complaint.lacity.org/complaints/fireworks or call LAPD at 1-877-275-5273.

Final charges dismissed against nine freeway protesters

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Members of the activist group Refuse Fascism today celebrated the dismissal of all remaining charges against a group of nine people who were arrested during a 2017 protest that included a temporary blockage of the Hollywood (101) Freeway in downtown Los Angeles.

The case made headlines when it was revealed during court proceedings that the Los Angeles Police Department had sent an informant to several of the group’s meetings, raising accusations that the department was spying on a private organization.

Nine members of Refuse Fascism were originally charged with various misdemeanors stemming from the 2017 anti-Trump protest. Some of the defendants reached plea agreements, but others continued to fight the charges.

“Despite having proof that these were just ordinary concerned citizens banding together for social justice, the LAPD along with the L.A. City Attorney decided to prosecute the nonviolent protesters,” said Paul Garcia, attorney for one of the defendants.

“… Finally, after admitting that their own witnesses did not want to testify again, they dismissed the case,” Garcia said.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, told City News Service prosecutors were having trouble getting witnesses to appear.

“Due to the age of the case, witnesses have either been reassigned, moved or are otherwise unavailable,” Wilcox said. “Those were the stated reasons in court.”

Another attorney for the protesters noted that the case involved two mistrials, one of which occurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we all know the fight for justice has only begun, but today is a proud day for those who believe in the First Amendment and who stand against government and police tyranny,” attorney Michael Plaut said.

L.A. receives $131.3 million for affordable housing, infrastructure upgrades

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The city of Los Angeles was awarded $131.3 million from the state to create 725 sustainable and affordable housing units and to make infrastructure improvements, it was announced today.

Rushmore Cervantes, general manager of the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department, said the California Strategic Growth Council awarded the money to the city under the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program.

“In such a competitive environment, wherein cities and counties across the state are aggressively seeking funds to support their communities, HCIDLA is thrilled to accept these valuable dollars from the SGC in support of the city’s ongoing efforts to address environmental challenges while pursuing critically needed affordable housing,” Cervantes said.

This is the largest SGC award to date for Los Angeles, Cervantes said. The goal of the AHSC Program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled by financing projects that integrate new affordable housing with transportation improvement projects near jobs, retail services and other amenities routinely used by Angelenos.

By paying for infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, bike lanes and bus shelters, the AHSC program makes it easier and safer for residents to walk, bike and use public transportation, Cervantes said.

The AHSC funds will provide gap-financing for the development of seven affordable housing projects — Corazon del Valle, Parkview, Rose Hill Court, Santa Monica and Vermont, Thatcher Yard, Washington Arts Collective and 619 Westlake. Of the 725 new apartment homes — 595 units, or 82%, will be dedicated for low-income and extremely low-income households.

Of the $131.3 million award, $87 million is allocated for new affordable housing construction and $42 million for transit-related infrastructure projects, including 8.11 miles of pedestrian and cycling improvements.

Combined, the seven projects will help reduce over 148,000 metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions, according to HCIDLA.

This marks the fifth consecutive year that HCIDLA’s proposals have been awarded AHSC funding. Combined with the prior AHSC awards, the city has secured $330.8 million to support 28 developments with 2,943 new housing units, of which 2,668 are affordable, and an array of greenhouse gas emission-reducing transit infrastructure projects.

L.A. Councilman looks to make ‘slow streets’ project permanent

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – City Councilman David Ryu introduced a motion today seeking to make permanent a “slow streets” program that was created at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to create more outdoor recreation space for residents.

“Since the start of the Slow Streets program, we have seen Angelenos find greater enjoyment and a closer connection to their neighborhood,” Ryu said. “People are getting outside, the streets are safer for kids and families — I don’t see why we wouldn’t make this permanent.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the Slow Streets program in May. The program allowed residents of individual neighborhoods to apply with the city Department of Transportation to have select residential streets closed to traffic, opening them to recreation use.

The idea of the program was to provide more recreational opportunities for residents adhering to stay-at-home mandates imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the program was intended to be temporary, Ryu said he wants to make it permanent, leaving the affected streets open for recreation.

“New parks are difficult and costly to develop in Los Angeles’ real estate market,” Ryu’s motion states. “Sidewalks are only widened in piecemeal fashion as new private developments are approved. Slow Streets and similar people-centered programs are an emerging and efficient strategy to increase safe neighborhood recreation citywide.”

Disneyland cancels planned July 17 reopening

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ANAHEIM (CNS) – Disneyland officials today scrubbed the planned July 17 reopening of the Anaheim theme park, citing a delay in the release of state health guidelines and the time it will take to bring all of its employees back to work.

A new opening date was not immediately announced.

“The state of California has now indicated that it will not issue theme park reopening guidelines until sometime after July 4,” according to a statement from Disneyland officials. “Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials. Once we have a clearer understanding of when guidelines will be released, we expect to be able to communicate a reopening date.

“Our Downtown Disney District will reopen on July 9 as previously announced with health and safety protocols in place for our cast members and guests. The opening of our Downtown Disney District has been previously approved in line with restaurant and retail openings throughout California. The Master Services Union, which represents our retail cast at this location, previously signed an agreement for members to return to work.”

While blaming the delay in reopening the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks on the state, Disney officials also conceded that they need to work to get the support of all employee unions. Some unions and employees have been expressing safety concerns about the reopening plans.

Some union members had been planning to conduct a protest parade this weekend in opposition to the July 17 reopening plan.

Disneyland officials, in their statement Wednesday, said, “In order to reopen our theme parks, we need to negotiate agreements with our unions to return employees to work.” Park officials said they have had “positive discussions” and reached agreements with 20 union affiliates, including the Master Services Council that represents more than 11,000 workers.

“The signed agreement details plans that include enhanced safety protocols that will allow us to responsibly reopen, and get thousands of our cast members back to work,” according to Disney.

Pomona City Councilman charged with possessing child porn

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A Pomona city councilman who is accused of taking inappropriate pictures of female students at two elementary schools where he was a substitute teacher was charged today with five criminal counts, including possessing child pornography.

Rubio Ramiro Gonzalez, 45, is set to be arraigned Aug. 28 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse on one felony count of possessing child pornography and four misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a child, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

He is accused of taking inappropriate pictures at Cortez and Arroyo elementary schools in Pomona, and allegedly had child pornography images in his email accounts, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Gonzalez was arrested May 21 following an investigation by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation. He was released later that day on bond, jail records show.

The Daily Bulletin reported that Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval called on Gonzalez to resign from office last month and that the City Council voted unanimously in favor of censuring the councilman following his arrest.