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2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: Legalized pot, sidewalk vending are among top stories

Elected officials had a busy year in 2018, trying to solve the homeless crisis, dealing with the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana and for many of them, running for re-election.

Those were three of the top news stories over the past 12 months as reported by The Wave. Here is our annual look back at the top stories of the year.

Spending begins

on homeless solutions

LOS ANGELES — City and county officials began spending money building new shelters and other housing facilities in a effort to get more people off the streets.

In his annual State of the City address in April, Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged $20 million for emergency shelters in what he called A Bridge Home program.

Garcetti said he wanted A Bridge Home facility in each of the city’s 15 council district complete with trailers, tents and other emergency shelters to “confront the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Garcetti estimated that through the plan, 1,500 beds would be added to shelters, providing 6,000 people a place to sleep every night if each bed serves four people over the course of a year.

The first Bridge Home facility opened in downtown near Olvera Street. A site in Hollywood also was selected and in October, Councilman Mike Bonin suggested using part of the Westwood Veterans Administration complex for another Bridge Home.

Things didn’t go so well in City Council President’s Herb Wesson’s 10th District. A site the councilman selected on Vermont Avenue near Koreatown was shot down by residents and property owners who forced Wesson to find another site.

In September, the county Board of Supervisors approved $9 million in Measure H funding to be distributed to cities in an effort to promote community-centric solutions to homelessness.

Two-thirds of the $9 million — to be paid out over 18 months beginning in January — will fund projects to increase the supply of interim and permanent housing. The remaining $3 million will be spent on efforts to enhance homelessness services.

Phil Ansell, who heads the county’s Homeless Initiative, said each city has distinct concerns.

“Cities have an important role and a unique perspective on the solutions to homelessness, and the county values each city’s distinct resources, challenges and perspectives,” Ansell said.

A total of 41 cities submitted plans in response to the county’s call for local solutions, with ideas ranging from hiring homeless coordinators to changing local ordinances to increase local housing stock. Those cities will now be eligible to participate in a request for proposal process.

The annual homeless count is coming up at the end of January. Last year’s count

revealed a 5 percent decrease in homeless numbers for the city of Los Angeles and a 3 percent decrease in the county overall.

Officials are hoping for a bigger decrease in the upcoming count.

Reactions are mixed

on legalized cannabis

LOS ANGELES — The city was one of the few in the county to pass laws allowing the sale of recreational marijuana and related businesses. Most of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County took a wait-and-see approach.

Sales of marijuana were so high in the city of Los Angeles that the city was able to expand the number of employees in the Department of Cannabis Regulations from five to 21 in February.

The city expected to collect $3.5 million in marijuana-related fees by the end of the fiscal year in June.

West Hollywood, Long Beach, Bellflower, Maywood, Cudahy and Huntington Park were among the cities that passed ordinances allowing marijuana shops to operate.

Los Angeles County, which continues to ban the sale of recreational cannabis in unincorporated areas, spent time trying to figure out how to close shops that were operating illegally.

Supervisor Hilda Solis urged law enforcement agencies to get tough on businesses operating in defiance of the ban.

“For the past year and a half I have been working closely with many community members from my district to combat illegally operating marijuana businesses,” Solis said. “Before the county considers recommendations for expanding marijuana businesses, we must put into place effective measures to end illegal operators.”

Solis called efforts to shut down illegal businesses amounted to a “countywide game of whack-a-mole,” with a new operator popping up in place of every closed business.

And, to no one’s surprise, a report from the county Department of Public Health found that marijuana use was increasing with 12 percent of adults 18 and older using the drug recreationally.

Among adults 21-29, almost 50 percent used pot. The report also indicated that people born in the U.S. were more likely to smoke pot that foreign-born residents.

New sheriff made

electoral history

LOS ANGELES — There weren’t a lot of surprises on Election Day in Los Angeles County, Most incumbents won re-election easily.

The biggest surprise was in the race for Los Angeles County sheriff where incumbent Jim McDonnell became the first incumbent county sheriff in more than a century to be defeated.

New Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks during his swearing in ceremony Dec. 4 at East Los Angeles College. In November, Villanueva became the first person to defeat an incumbent sheriff in Los Angeles County in more than a century. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

Retired sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva defeated McDonnell, who served for 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before becoming Long Beach’s chief of police in 2010.

McDonnell was elected county sheriff in 2014 after Sheriff Lee Baca resigned. He defeated Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca’s top aide.

But four years later, McDonnell was defeated by Villanueva, who was supported by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing rank-and-file sheriff deputies.

Villanueva ran on a platform of “reform, rebuild and restore” the sheriff’s department, which had been tainted by scandal that resulted in Baca, Tanaka and other deputies going to jail after being convicted of federal charges related to violence in county jails.

He quickly made changes at the command level, relieving of duty an undersheriff, four assistant sheriffs, eight chiefs, a communications director and a community outreach director,

He also reiterated a promise to remove federal immigration agents from county jails and announced he would cut down the list of roughly 150 misdemeanor offenses that trigger department cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Also on Election Day, several longtime Republican districts in Orange and San Diego went Democratic as the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives in Washington.

In Sacramento, all constitutional officers remained Democrats, led by former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who replaced the retiring Jerry Brown as governor.

Mendoza loses seat

over accusations

SACRAMENTO — The “Me Too Movement,” in which women complained of sexual harassment, assault or unwanted sexual advances in the work place, affected a number of elected officials in 2018,

They included former state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.

Former state Sen.
Tony Mendoza

Mendoza, who represented the 32nd Senate District, took a leave of absence in early 2018, claiming his innocence.

“I am deeply disappointed that I was forced into this action without any due process, which is counter to the very essence of two significant pillars of our American society — fairness and justice,” Mendoza said in a statement at that time.

“It was my hope that the Senate and Senate Rules Committee would have afforded me the opportunity to clear my name and, until that opportunity arose, treated me with the same standards applied to other senators similarly accused.

However, in a report released Feb. 20, investigators found that Mendoza “more likely than not” engaged in flirtatious or suggestive behavior toward a half-dozen women dating back to 2006.”

“Four of the women were working for Mendoza as staff members, interns or fellows at the time of his conduct,” according to the summary, which was released by the Senate Rules Committee.

“None of these women alleged that they had a sexual relationship with Mendoza or that he had been physically aggressive or sexually crude towards them.

“However, the recipients of this unwelcome behavior understood that Mendoza was suggesting sexual contact,” according to the report.

Mendoza eventually resigned and then sought to regain the remaining nine months of his term in a special election June 5. He also ran for a new four-year term in the June 5 primary.

He lost in both races.

Former Montebello City Councilwoman Vanessa Delgado was elected to complete the last few months of Mendoza’s term.

Rita Topalian, R-Whittier, won the primary race for a full four-year term, but she was defeated Nov. 6 by Pico Rivera City Councilman Robert Archuleta.

Huizar’s home, office

searched by FBI

LOS ANGELES — After announcing that his wife, Richelle, would run to take his City Council seat in 2020 when he is termed out of office, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar found himself in hot water.

Jose Huizar

He was accused of harassment, discrimination and retaliation and a special committee was convened to look into the accusations in September.

The complaint was made in June on MyVoiceLA, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s new website for staffers, city commissioners and others to report workplace bias, and was forwarded to City Council President Herb Wesson on Sept. 13, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The identity of Huizar’s accuser is not known, as the website is designed for accusers’ identities to be protected.

Then in November, armed with search warrants, FBI agents entered Huizar’s City Hall office, his Boyle Heights field office and his Boyle Heights house, with at least a dozen agents carrying out boxes, bags or rolling suitcases of potential evidence.

Huizar missed the next City Council meeting Nov, 13 and did not appear at any meeting or 14th District event for two weeks.

It’s not known if the FBI raid was related to the accusations in September.

Huizar has not made any public statements since the FBI searches.

No arrests have resulted from the FBI searches and the agency has not commented on the purpose of the searches.

Huizar has been stripped of all of his committee assignments by City Council President Herb Wesson.

Meanwhile, Richelle announced in November she would not seek her husband’s seat in 2020, saying she needed to “deal with family matters.”

Teacher fired over

anti-military remarks

PICO RIVERA — Pico Rivera City Councilman Gregory Salcido remained in office but lost his teaching job at El Rancho High School for reportedly making derogatory comments about the military.

Gregory Salcido

Salcido, a history and government teacher at El Rancho High School, was put on administrative leave by the El Rancho Unified School District Jan. 29, three days after a video apparently recorded in his classroom went viral after it was posted on Facebook. He was later fired by the school board.

The Pico Rjvera City Council Feb. 13 passed a resolution on a vote of 3-1-1 seeking Salcido’s resignation said Salcido’s comments “have placed our city under a cloud of dishonor, disparagement, suspicion and criticism” and that “taking such a drastic step is an effort to restore the positive image of our city.”

Mayor Gustavo Camacho and then-Councilman Bob Archuleta, a veteran with two sons in the military, voted yes, along with David Armenta. Councilman Brent Tercero abstained and Salcido voted no, refusing to resign.

Victor Quinoñez, a 17-year-old senior at El Rancho High School at the time, recorded the cellphone video after Salcido made comments about the U.S. Marines sweatshirt Quinoñez was wearing.

Salcido is heard criticizing the military, although his face is not seen.

The story went national with even then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine general, commenting about Salcido on a Fox News radio interview.

Salcido said his comments were taken out of context. He said while he did not think the armed forces were the best option for his students, he was not anti-military.

Some former students supported Salcido as an educator

According to an ABC 7 interview, Gary Winthrope — a student at El Rancho High School — claimed the video was misleading and a lot of things Salcido said were left out, including positive things about the military.

Winthorpe said that Salcido even told Quinoñez that he would support him if he joined the military.

It was not the first time Salcido had been in trouble for his actions inside the classroom. In 2012, Salcido was placed on leave for “smacking” a student who had fallen asleep in class in the back of his head.

Salcido admitted hitting the student, but said it was “grossly exaggerated.”

In 2010, a parent complained that Salcido threatened his daughter and made inappropriate comments. He denied it, but was still temporarily suspended.

Southeast rail line

project advances

PARAMOUNT — Transportation also was a big item. Planning by the Paramount-based Eco-Rapid Transit Line continued on a plan to run a light rail commuter train from Artesia to Union Station in Los Angeles through several area communities, but that won’t happen until 2028.

However, plans will continue in the coming year to enhance economic development at the train stations, including one in Bellflower, Downey , South Gate and Huntington Park.

The West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor, a $5 to $6 billion, 20-mile light rail project through Southeast Los Angeles County, is undergoing an environmental impact report and is on track to start construction by 2022, with completion in 2028, according to Michael Kodama, executive director of the Eco-Rapid Transit agency, in a recent message to the South Gate City Council.

The agency is composed of representatives from the 13 participating Southeast cities and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Future extensions are proposed north to Glendale and south into Anaheim and Santa Ana in Orange County, Kodama said.

“We expect 86,000 passengers a day, that will rival any new commuter light rail line in the country for ridership,” Kodama said.

The project is funded by Measure M, a Los Angeles County voter-approved sales tax.

Stations are planned in Bellflower on Bellflower Boulevard next to the Historic Depot; on county land in the area of Garfield Avenue south of Imperial Highway in Downey; in South Gate at Atlantic Avenue and Firestone Boulevard, and in Huntington Park.

Using the abandoned Union Pacific Railroad line, Eco-Rapid (formerly the Orange Line) would connect downtown Los Angeles to southeast Los Angeles County, serving the cities and communities of Arts District, and Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, the unincorporated Florence-Graham community of L.A. County and the cities of Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, Cudahy, South Gate, Downey, Paramount, Bellflower, Cerritos and Artesia.

Sidewalk vending

becomes legal

LOS ANGELES — Until Nov. 28, Los Angeles was the only large city in the United States where sidewalk vending was against the law.

That changed when the City Council ended years of debate by finalizing an ordinance that legalizes and regulates sidewalk vending. The council action came before a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1 that took much of the decision-making regarding sidewalk vendors out of the hands of local municipalities.

The state law only allow cities to impose vending restrictions based on health, welfare or safety concerns, and also prevents cities from enforcing vending regulations if they do not have a local system in place that conforms with the state law.

Los Angeles will implement a permit system that allows vendors to sell their wares on a certain block or in a certain zone, instead of a regulatory system that would have created a set of rules and standards but would not have granted site-specific permission to vendors.

The council also established no-vending zones — based on health, welfare or safety concerns — at Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, Universal Studios, Staples Center, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other major tourist attractions.

The law requires vendors to be located at least three feet apart from each other, but does not restrict how many vendors can be on an individual block.

The state law prohibits any rule requiring vendors to obtain the permission of nearby brick-and-mortar businesses — something that had been strongly opposed by industry advocates. The City Council considered such a restriction, but abandoned the idea in April.

As 2018 drew to a close, many cities outside Los Angeles were considering their own rules and regulations.

Both South Gate and Huntington Park adopted ordinances requiring permits for sidewalk vendors to conform with the new state law.

Maywood City Hall

served with warrants

MAYWOOD — Investigators from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office served search warrants Feb. 8 at Maywood City Hall and other locations within the city, four months after a critical state audit revealed debts for more than $15 million and lax collection of parking citations and business license fees.

The October 2017 state audit blamed the city’s “weak governance” for its ballooning debt and highlighted alleged political infighting, mismanagement, violations of the state’s open meeting laws, wasteful spending and dubious hiring practices.

Warrants also were served at then-Mayor Ramon Medina’s house and a mechanic shop he owns as well as the home of former City Councilman Sergio Calderon and the home and business of Vice Mayor Ricardo Villareal.

A press release issued by Greg Risling, assistant chief of media relations for the District Attorney’s Office, did not reveal what the investigators were seeking.

Medina and Villareal remain on the council, but the mayor is now Eduardo De La Riva, a frequent critic of his fellow council members.

The district attorney’s investigations started for possible violations of open meeting laws in the hiring of interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo, who was appointed to the job in December 2015.

When the City Council decided not to extend Carrillo’s contract, the council hired Reuben Martinez, a former Boeing project manager with no public administration experience, but with a business administration degree. In 2016, Martinez earned a salary of $180,189, including benefits.

De La Riva said Martinez was a customer at Medina’s auto repair shop.

City spokesman Robert Alaniz said that Martinez took a paid “leave of absence” in February, allegedly caused by stress related to the ongoing investigation, but would not elaborate whether the probe targeted his office. Alaniz did not say when Martinez would return to work, or who would be the interim manager.

De la Riva posted a searing criticism of Medina and Calderon on a link to his website that indicates the city’s financial troubles started on Dec. 5, 2015, when the two politicians were sworn in to serve then as councilman and mayor, respectively.

“He also questioned the hiring of ECM Engineering for $79,266, a firm picked without a formal bid process.

“I have continuously denounced and reported the illegal actions, contracts, hiring and back-room deals that this current administration has engaged in, and will continue to do so,” De la Riva said.

Medina said the search warrants do not reveal their intent and that he will fight to get cleared of any charges.

“I am disappointed that the district attorney served these search warrants without revealing the nature of the investigation,” he said. “Despite the opaque nature of the investigation, I intend to fully cooperate with the authorities and expect to be totally vindicated upon its completion.”

Lynwood official

named in lawsuit

LYNWOOD — Former City Councilman Edwin Hernandez was another elected official hit with sexual harassment accusations.

In February, a city employee filed a complaint against Hernandez, alleging he made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

His actions “intimidated and publicly mortified her,” the woman’s attorney, Lisa Bloom of the Bloom Law Firm, wrote in a letter to the city. The woman, who originally asked to remain anonymous but was later identified as Monica Ochoa, a senior accounting technician, said she feared for her job.

The letter obtained by the L.A. Weekly noted some examples of Hernandez’s alleged behavior, including one instance in which he sent the employee a text, commenting, “You look so good in that blue shirt. Hmmm.” In another instance, he allegedly asked the woman to step out of her office and said, “I want to kiss your pink lips.”

Hernandez’s council colleagues stripped him of his mayor pro tem title and called for a full and complete investigation be conducted by an independent third party to delve into the allegations presented.

In March, a former city employee said she, too, had been harassed by Hernandez.

Marisela Santana, a former reporter and editor with The Wave, said Hernandez sexually harassed her and later retaliated against her after she was hired as a public information officer in late 2012, a year before Hernandez was elected into office, an area newspaper reported

“He wanted us to be more than friends outside of City Hall,” Santana said. “He wanted something physical, and I said no.”

Hernandez did not run for re-election in November. Santana was one of two newcomers elected to the City Council Nov. 6.

Beck replaced by

Moore at LAPD

LOS ANGELES — When 2018 began, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had two more years to serve out his second and final five-year term as chief.

Thus, it came as a surprise at the end of January when Beck announced he would be stepping down as police chief June 27.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Michel Moore, who was a finalist for the chief’s position in 2010, to replace Beck.

“The department is ready for fresh eyes to take our organization to even higher levels,” Beck said at a news conference that was called to discuss 2017 crime statistics.

Beck joined the department as a reserve officer in March 1975. He became a full-time officer in March 1977. He was promoted to sergeant in 1984, to lieutenant in 1993, to captain in 1999 and commander in 2005. He became a deputy chief in 2006.

Garcetti called Beck “a man who has led with his heart. This is a man who has been forged in steel, whose family lives and breathes policing, and yet he is one of the most humanistic people I know.”

Garcetti chose Moore, a 36-year LAPD veteran, over Deputy Chief Robert Arcos, and Bill Scott, a former LAPD officer who is now the chief of the San Francisco Police Department.

“One of the most important questions of the moment may be, ‘Why do I want to be the next chief of police of this great city?’ And it’s pretty simple,” Moore said at the press conference announcing his selection. “I wish to continue the momentum in building trust, particularly in communities of color, and improving public safety.”

He added that he wants to make the LAPD “more diverse and representative” while continuing to support those who work for it.