Friday, October 31, 2008

Congratulations, Robert Gladden!

Today in Council I joined Councilmember Tom LaBonge in recognizing Fire Inspector Robert Gladden who retired after 30 years of service to the Los Angeles Fire Department and the people of Los Angeles.

Before joining the LAFD, Mr. Gladden served for four years in the United States Air Force in Las Vegas, Korea, and Lancaster. After joining the LAFD in 1978, he was assigned to the Downtown, South Central, Hollywood and Crenshaw portions of the city. Robert was promoted to Inspector in April 1988.

Robert has ensured the safety of millions of people in their homes and at hundreds of events during his career. These events include Presidential and Vice Presidential visits, the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, the renovation of the Hollywood Bowl, and the opening of the Kodak Theatre at the Hollywood and Highland Complex.

We wish Robert a happy retirement and thank him for his dedication to our city.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Renters in foreclosed properties have rights, too!

Echo Park resident Jonny Lee (pictured at right) couldn't believe he had become one of the people he had been reading about in the newspaper. He received a threatening notice from his new landlord -- Countrywide Home Loans -- because his building's previous owner had fallen into foreclosure.

Mr. Lee was offered 48 hours to consider two choices: he could leave on his own within 30 days and receive a $2,000 relocation fee or he could wait and be evicted in 30 days.

What Mr. Lee didn't know is that Countrywide's actions in this case - pressuring a renter to leave solely because of a foreclosure and offering $2,000 in relocation fees -- both violate city law.

According our laws, a change in building ownership due to foreclosure is not by itself an adequate reason to evict a tenant, and tenants must be notified of their rights in these situations. In the event that eviction is justified following a foreclosure, tenants are also entitled to a relocation fee in the minimum amount of $7,000.

This morning I sent Countrywide a letter regarding their involvement with the Echo Park triplex where Mr. Lee lives, and demanding that they cease and desist illegal foreclosure-related eviction practices. This is not the first time that I have been notified of these kind of tactics being used by Countrywide. I am watching and going to make sure that they follow the laws we have in place to protect renters from fraudulent or predatory practices.

Tenants have rights, even if they live in properties that are being foreclosed. Tenants who believe they are being pressured to vacate a foreclosed property or are being offered relocation fees below the minimum $7,000 for good faith evictions may seek advice from the Los Angeles Housing Department by calling 1-866-557-RENT.

Air Force Week in Los Angeles

This morning, I joined Councilmember Hahn and leaders from the U.S. Air Force in announcing November 14-21 as Air Force Week in Los Angeles. Air Force Week is an Air Force-led program designed to increase communication with the public. Los Angeles is just one of three cities chosen nationally as sites for the event. It will feature many free activities, such as flyovers, an Air Force Expo, and a Film Festival. Check out the website for more information.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

City Council approves electronic billboard motion

The City Council approved my motion directing the City Attorney to determine whether electronic billboard conversions can trigger the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The City Attorney will report back to the City Council in 45 days.

Under CEQA, projects that may have a significant impact on their surrounding communities must be reviewed through the appropriate public process, which gives neighbors, community advocates, and other stakeholders the opportunity to raise questions and the project's proposer the opportunity to address those concerns and needs before the project is permitted. Requiring a CEQA evaluation would give the public and the City an opportunity to review each proposed conversion's technical aspects such as the frequency of the content changes, illumination intensity, and hours of illumination.

Already, this motion has gotten the attention of Clear Channel, which owns the billboard at Silver Lake and Effie that inspired this motion. In response to residents' concerns, Clear Channel has agreed to turn off the sign every evening at midnight and dim by 67 percent the intensity of sign's illumination.

This is a temporary solution for this particular location, but does not address the long-term issue of whether the sign is appropriate for the neighborhood. Moreover, we need to address the larger problem of creating a process for the public and City of Los Angeles to influence the locations and technical aspects signs as they are converted in our neighborhoods. CEQA would give our communities the process we need to limit the impact of electronic billboards and ensure the conversions occur in appropriate areas. If we can legally use this process, we should.

Monday, October 20, 2008

2008 Hollywood Holiday will feature Demi Lovato

Every year, Hollywood has played a role in ushering in the holiday season on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This year, we are very excited to bring family entertainment to the boulevard in a fresh, exciting format.

The 2008 Hollywood Holiday will include Winterfest, an all-day street festival that will include a free Radio Disney performance by Hollywood Records recording artist and Disney Channel actress Demi Lovato. Ms. Lovato stars with the Jonas Brothers in Disney’s Camp Rock and her album Don’t Forget debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart when it was released on Hollywood Records in September 2008. The City of Los Angeles, Lift Up America, and the Hollywood Youth Foundation are presenting sponsors of Winterfest, which will include a special “VIP” area for more than 1,000 children who participate in Los Angeles-area programs for underprivileged youth.

At 5 p.m., the Hollywood Santa Parade will begin at the corner of Hollywood and Highland and will feature marching bands from across the country, equestrian units, floats, and Santa Claus. Grandstand seats are available for $35 and discounts are available for groups of 25 or more. Those seeking more information about tickets or sponsorship opportunities, may call 1-866-PARADE1 or visit the website here.

Participants are encouraged to GoMetro to Winterfest and the Hollywood Santa Parade and exit at one of the convenient Hollywood stations. For Metro station information and schedules, please click here.

Hollywood Holiday will be a great way to start the holiday season. See you on November 30!

Friday, October 17, 2008

$75,000 offered in John McGraham case

Last Thursday, a terrible act was committed in our community. John McGraham was burned to death after being set on fire with gasoline on the corner of 3rd Street and Berendo. Mr. McGraham was a well-known and well-loved homeless man who lived on the streets in this neighborhood. The way he was murdered is beyond comprehension. The City of Los Angeles is offering a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for his death. I urge anyone who knows anything about this to step forward and call the LAPD at 1-877-275-5273.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Retirement, Ray Gonzales!

Today in Council Chambers we honored journalist Ray Gonzales, who recently retired after serving as KTLA Director of Community Affairs for more than 30 years. Gonzales was also the Executive Producer and host of KTLA’s Pacesetters weekend public affairs program.

An active community leader, Gonzales coordinated KTLA Charities for the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation and oversaw the foundation’s distribution of charitable funds to organizations in Southern California. He also served on numerous boards, including the advisory board of the City of Los Angeles’s own LA’s BEST after-school program.

Although Ray has retired from KTLA, we know he'll never retire from Los Angeles and we look forward to his continued involvement in our community. Congratulations, Ray!

Kicking off Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Today I joined Mayor Villaraigosa, my fellow Councilmembers, and members of the Domestic Violence Task Force (DVTF) at City Hall in launching Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is truly tragic when people must fear for their safety in their own homes. The only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to educate everyone -- families, law enforcement officers, policy makers – to recognize and know how to provide assistance to victims.

The DVTF released a new report this morning on teen dating violence that shows one in five teen relationships are abusive. Such studies show how important it is to become educated about the prevalence and effects of domestic violence as early as possible.

We also announced the city’s participation in HopeLine, Verizon Wireless’s cell phone collection program to help victims of domestic violence. Through Verizon Wireless’s HopeLine program, you can help combat domestic violence by donating your used wireless phones and accessories, which are refurbished and sold with the proceeds donated to benefit local shelters and non-profit organizations that focus on domestic violence prevention and awareness. Phones are also donated to organizations that provide assistance to domestic violence victims. From October 10 through November 10, you can donate your old phones by bringing them to collection boxes in designated City offices, including City Hall and City Council District Offices across the city.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Echo Park named one of top 10 "Great Neighborhoods in America"

The American Planning Association has designated Echo Park one of ten "Great Neighborhoods in America," which just confirms what I have known for a long time.
I love Echo Park and am proud to live in this robust, diverse community. I love jogging around Echo Park Lake or riding my bike down Sunset to get to work at City Hall. I love being able to grab a cup of tea at Chango or a pastry at Masa or tamales at Celaya Bakery or a cupcake at Delilah's.

I have been proud to work in partnership with many dedicated community organizations, local residents and businesses, city partners, and others to make Echo Park a safer, cleaner place. It is great that our efforts have been recognized.

International Walk to School Day

We want our students to get more exercise and be able to spend more time outdoors. Walking to school is a great way to accomplish both, but we need also to make sure students have safe routes to get to school and home. Getting hit by a car traveling 30 miles per hour has the same impact on a person as falling off a three story building.

Today is International Walk to School Day and I celebrated with Councilmember Tom LaBonge and students from Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake. The students walked to school and then participated in a safety fair where they got to try safety-related demonstrations and visit information booths.

Soon these students will see nearly $1 million in pedestrian safety improvements around their school, which Councilmember LaBonge and I announced in April.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Celebrating milestones at LA City College

Access to a quality public education has been the key to success for millions of Americans who came to this country seeking a better life for their families. Los Angeles City College (LACC) has been providing that kind of quality education to local students for more than 70 years and today the college celebrated two milestones.

Dr. Jamillah Moore was inaugurated today. She is the first African American woman to permanently lead this institution, and I know that she is committed to providing leadership that will enhance educational opportunities for all of our students. In addition, the college opened the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, a brand new 63,000 square-foot facility that will be a great resource for LACC students.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Welcome, Helen Bernstein High School

Hollywood has long been a place where people come to make their dreams come true, and starting this year, thousands of high school students in Hollywood will have the opportunity to get the quality education they deserve and need for success at Helen Bernstein High School.

This morning we celebrated the opening of this new facility, which will not only benefit the students who go or will go here, but will help relieve overcrowding at Hollywood and Marshall High Schools. Located right across the street from KTLA's studios, the school features small learning communities to give students a more personalized educational experience to help better prepare them for success. It's a fitting tribute to Helen Bernstein, who dedicated her life to improving public schools for every Los Angeles student.

East Hollywood BID tree planting

This morning I joined the East Hollywood Business Improvement District (BID) and the Hollywood Beautification Team in planting a tree on Vermont Avenue. This ceremonial tree planting marked the completion of the BID's first major project -- planting more than 100 trees on Vermont between Hollywood Boulevard and Melrose Avenue. The new trees provide a nice-looking landscape along this busy street, and will provide even more shade as they grow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Electronic billboards in residential neighborhoods

This electronic billboard popped up at Silver Lake and Effie and is one of a number new ones around the city. Irresponsibly-placed electronic billboards are not only nuisances to residents who have to live with light blaring into their homes, but can be dangerous for neighborhood drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

Today I introduced two motions that would address the proliferation of electronic billboards in Los Angeles. One motion instructs the City Attorney and Department of Building and Safety to review the terms of a settlement between the City of Los Angeles and major billboard companies that resulted in the city allowing the companies to convert a certain number of traditional billboards to electronic billboards. The settlement agreement allowed the City of Los Angeles to avoid paying potentially millions of dollars to the billboard companies when the courts opined in favor of the billboard companies, which alleged that the city’s billboard regulations limited their freedom of speech. The motion also instructs the City Attorney and Department of Building and Safety to review whether the new billboard is in compliance with the settlement.

The other motion is a resolution that would put the City of Los Angeles officially on record in opposition to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to allow Amber Alert message boards to be used for commercial advertising.

Creating the Echo Park Film District

Today I introduced a motion that would create an Echo Park Film District. The purpose of the new district is to help ensure that filming is a positive experience for both the neighborhood and the productions. We want to keep filming in Los Angeles and we want to make sure that filming doesn’t interfere with everyday life in our community.

The creation of the Echo Park Film District would set special conditions and guidelines to give the surrounding community more information and notice about productions in Echo Park neighborhood. Examples of these conditions include notifying affected residents/merchants/businesses in English and Spanish at least two days in advance of the first day of filming or in advance of any substantial preparation for all productions, restrictions on parking of production vehicles and generators, and restrictions on the type and location of portable restrooms. The district would also require community surveys for exceptional filming activities, including full street closures, any filming prior to 7:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m., or filming for more than three consecutive days at any single location or multiple locations that affect residents and merchants.

When it is approved, the film district will be the city's second; the first film district is in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles.

As a resident of Echo Park, I am personally looking forward to the implementation of this collaborative effort between production companies, local business owners, community residents, and FilmLA.