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2015: Homelessness, health care, drought top year’s stories

The year 2016 is starting the same way 2015 did, with homelessness, health care, the ongoing drought and local politics the major issues.

Last January, officials at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood announced the hospital might close unless a sale to a private health care company was approved.

That company backed out later in the year but another company came forward later the year to operate the Daughters of Charity Health System chain.

Eight-five of Los Angeles County’s cities conducted a homeless count and found an increase, especially among homeless veterans. Numerous private and government agencies began efforts, which have showed signs of success. Another count is due Jan. 26.

Last April, Gov. Jerry Brown, concerned with the ongoing drought, signed papers ordering all cities and private water providers to cutback usage at least 25 percent from their April 2013 water use total. Most Southeast providers were in compliance in the middle of the year with hopes of a rainy winter easing drought conditions.

These and other top stories of 2015 are reviewed below.

Lynwood hospital

on the market

LYNWOOD — Two unions at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood split over a proposal to sell the facility and six other s hospitals statewide operated by Daughters of Charity Health System, a nonprofit organization to a for-profit company, Prime Health Care services.

Jerry Kozai, president of the nonprofit group, said the hospitals were losing money and would have to close, if not sold to Prime HealthCare.

He noted that St. Francis has 384 beds, a staff of 375 doctors and sees about 20,000 patients a year, including those in the 24-hour emergency room.

At a public hearing at Bateman Hall, Kozai said Prime would retain all the current employees and continue the chain’s charitable work among the low income and unemployed.

The California Medical Association and the California Nurses Association supported the move while members of the Service Employees International Union, composed of other health care workers, opposed the sale, pointing to reduced services, layoffs and pension cutbacks at other facilities Prime HealthCare owned.

Prime HealthCare later backed out of the agreement, saying it could not meet the conditions demanded by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

On Dec. 3, Harris conditionally approved the transfer of the hospitals to Blue Mountain Capital Management, based in New York, which promised $250 million in capital improvements.

Her conditions included retaining 7,000 current jobs at the six facilities with comparable salaries and a continuation of the Daughters of Charity Health System charitable work.

Southeast cities

count the homeless

About 6,000 volunteers participated Jan. 26-28 in the Los Angeles County’s Home Count conducted in every city but Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena. Those three cities conduct their own count program.

The results, announced in May, found a 21 percent increase in the homeless population, bringing the total to about 41,200. For that reason the count, previously conducted every two years, was switched to an annual event.

This year’s count will begin Jan. 26.

The count is overseen by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, established by the county and city of Los Angeles in 1993 to keep track of the homeless.

The count will include those living on the street and those in sheltered locations such as vehicles, homeless shelters, motels and homes of friends and relatives.

Huntington Park hit

by political turmoil

HUNTINGTON PARK — Vice Mayor Karina Macias, elected in 2013 with Valentine Amezquita, clashed several times with then-Mayor Rosa Perez and the rest of the City Council. It came to a head last Feb. 15 when Macias admitted using the city seal without permission to support three first-time candidates in the March 3 election — Graciela Ortiz, Jhonny Pineda and Marilyn Sanabria.

The three newcomers defeated several other candidates well known in the community including Perez. Council members Mario Gomez and Ofelia Hernandez could not seek re-election because of term limits.

Ortinz, Pineda and Sanabria were elected by voters and quickly named Macias mayor and Ortiz vice mayor.

The new council members clashed with some residents on certain issues for several months but a major blowup occurred after four members, with Amezquita dissenting, appointed two non-citizens to advisory commission.

Because of their status, Francisco Medina, named to the Health and Education Commission; and Julian Zatarain, appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, receive no stipends for their volunteer services.

Pineda admitted that the two had worked on his election campaign in March.

Members of a regional group called We the People Rising and some Huntington Park residents have protested at every council meeting since September, demanding the removal of the two commissioners and a recall of the four council members.

So far, no recall campaign has been launched, but that could change come 2016.

Exide battery plant

closes in Vernon

VERNON — The long-running conflict between Exide Technologies, a battery recycling plant in Vernon, and residents of surrounding cities including Huntington Park, Bell, Maywood and Cudahy boiled over last Jan. 28 when the state Department of Toxic Substances Control issued eight citations concerning alleged improper disposal of toxic materials.

Exide officials said they were working with the state to resolve the problems but residents demanded closure of the plant, citing an assortment of health issues allegedly caused by the factory. They were supported by county and state officials.

The plant was closed in March as the complaints continued.

It was noted that the plant, which recycled about 25,000 batteries a day, did not have a permanent state permit to operate, only an interim one on condition of a halt to the pollution.

During the spring and summer, Exide paid about $50 million to help clean up toxic materials from the soil of the surrounding area but improvements in its recycling equipment still had not met state standards by October.

The state approved spending $7 million to expedite the cleanup in August and in October the county Board of Supervisors approved another $2 million for the work.

The plant remains closed.

Bellflower settles

lawsuit with church

BELLFLOWER — After a closed session April 13, the City Council here announced the settlement of a lawsuit with the Glory Tabernacle Christian Center. The 150-member non-denominational congregation had owned the site for several years but mostly used it as an office while seeking permission to conduct for worship services at the location.

It had been conducting those services at a school in Long Beach, except for special occasions approved by the City Council.

Congregation members, headed by the Rev. Sandra Turnbull, said the city’s parking requirements were too stringent and could not be met.

The city called for 90 spaces based on total footage of the complex. The site provided 26. Turnbull said the city’s requirement was unfair because the entire church complex is never fully occupied.

Proposals to lease added parking from local merchants were offered but city officials demanded that the church had to purchase those spaces to assure availability.

The church is located in the city’s downtown area of Bellflower Boulevard between the Artesia (91) Freeway and Alondra Boulevard. Council members expressed concern that parking would not be available for the new businesses it seeks.

Under the settlement, the city was required to pay the church $1.775 million and allow it to conduct worship services with the 26-on-site parking spaces.

State demands

water conservation

Gov. Jerry Brown directed the California Water Resources Commission April 1 to require all state water providers to cut usage by 25 percent,  based on figures from April 1, 2013 by April, 2016.

The aim was to save about 1.3 million acre feet of water to combat the drought, now in its fourth year. An acre foot is about 300,300 gallons.

Based on previous usage and population, some providers, like the Pico Water District and the cities of Cerritos and Rosemead were given a 25 percent reduction. Most Southeast cities were told to cut usage by 20 percent to meet the goal.

Cities complied by using state-mandated restrictions on reduced usage such as not washing down driveways with a hose, use of a water nozzle to wash cars and fixing any plumbing leaks. Restaurants were told not to serve water to customers unless requested.

Cities limited lawn watering to 15-minute intervals on a space two or three times a week in evening hours and changed their landscaping laws to allow the use of artificial turf or removing grass lawns and installing native plants and rocks.

Watering of grass in street medians with fresh water is now prohibited. Cities may use recycled water or install synthetic turf.

Plans by the regional Water Replenishment District of Southern California to build a $95 million water treatment plant in Pico Rivera and expand the Goldsworthy Desalination plant in Torrance, along with a predicted El Niño event this winter are hoped to help ease the drought.

Cities assist with

Special Olympics

Several area cities hosted visiting delegations of World Special Olympic athletes and their coaches and guardians prior to competition in Los Angeles July 25 to Aug. 2 with special events.

Downey was host to about 100 participants from Ireland while competitors from Germany were hosted by Alhambra, Monterey Park and Lincoln Heights. Cerritos and Lakewood hosted athletes and their families from Turkey and Uruguay, respectively.

La Mirada hosted competitors from Russian while Whittier welcomed participants from Macau, an area in China.

Hosts provided lodging, food, transportation and special events for their visitors, relying largely on the help of volunteers and donations from businesses and community members.

A total of 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches took part in the World Games held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and other venues in the region.

Destiny Sanchez, a junior at John Glenn High School in Norwalk, had the honor of lighting the Special Olympics Torch July 25 during the opening ceremonies for the World Special Olympics at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Sanchez, who competed in the track and field competition at the Special Olympics, was assisted by Rafer Johnson, a former Olympics decathlon champion who lit the torch to begin the 1984 Olympics at the Coliseum.

Two other Glenn High students also competed in the Special Olympics, Joey Mata and Louis Velasquez. All three are competitors on Team Norwalk, the city’s Special Olympics program, in which they train with coaches on track and field events two days a week and compete at events throughout Southern California.

Bellflower calls for

special election

BELLFLOWER — The City Council here set a special election for Nov. 8, 2016 for residents to vote on a proposed plan that would divide the city into five voting districts for City Council seats as opposed to the current at large elections.

The election is part of a settlement with two Latinos and an African-American woman who lost in previous elections. The three said the city’s at-large voting system is unfair to minorities.

City officials denied any discrimination and say they could have won the court suit but decided to “let the people decide” and possibly save millions of dollars in legal fees.

The city will pay $250,000 to the plaintiff’s attorney and has paid $50,000 to hire a consultant to draw up the five districts, one on each corner of the city and across the top.

Council members Oct. 12 chose that design after receiving comments from residents.

For most speakers, including a number of Bellflower High School social science students with Hispanic last names, the question was not the proposed boundaries but the division attempt itself.

They said they have experienced no discrimination and suggested that the losing candidates who sued “did not try hard enough” to win election.

Nike store opens

in East L.A.

EAST LOS ANGELES — Nike opened its sixth community store here Oct. 22 at the northwest corner of Whittier Boulevard and South McDonnell Avenue.

The grand opening celebration of Nike East Los closed McDonnell Avenue and converted it into a soccer field for the occasion.

“The new East Los store sits in the heart of one of the most important communities in the area,” said Blanca Gonzalez, general manager of the North America West Territory for Nike. “Here, we have the opportunity to make an immediate, meaningful impact and amplify the values of the Nike brand through sport and community activity.

“We’ve built great partnerships with the local Boys and Girls Club, the Eastmont Community Center and nearby high schools, and are excited about the future we’ll build together.”

To celebrate the opening, the store hosted soccer star Giovani dos Santos, who took questions from consumers and local high school students. Following the question-and-answer session, dos Santos joined a game of futsal on McDonnell Avenue. The afternoon also included a Nike+ Training Club workout for local student athletes.

Besides jobs and the sale of sports apparel and equipment, the Nike Community Store will promote athletic events for the area to promote a healthy lifestyle, a spokesperson said.

Downey officer

killed on duty

DOWNEY — Hundreds of uniformed police officers from across the area turned out Nov. 30 along with friends and family members of Officer Ricardo Galvez, paying tribute to the five-year police department member in burial at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

Burial followed services at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Downey Police Chief Carl Charles said Galvez “left a legacy of love and caring for others,” while District Attorney Jackie Lacey called him a “guardian of the community.”

Downey police said Galvez, a U.S. Marine veteran who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was off duty and sitting in his private unmarked car in civilian clothing Nov. 18 when three suspects approached, apparently in a robbery attempt.

Detectives said the alleged killers apparently did not realize Galvez was a police officer, but it is uncertain why they starting firing into the car.

Officials of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated, said a Downey patrol car followed the suspects from the parking lot to Montebello, where they were apprehended.

The three suspects face murder charges.

Galvez, who lived in South Gate, is survived by his mother, two sisters and a brother, police said.