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First marine wilderness in continental U.S. is designated

Written By kolimtiga on Jumat, 30 November 2012 | 12.56

The federal government cleared the way Thursday for waters off the Northern California coast to become the first marine wilderness in the continental United States, ending a contentious political battle that pitted a powerful U.S. senator against the National Park Service.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar settled the dispute by refusing to extend a permit for a commercial oyster farm operating in Point Reyes National Seashore. Congress designated the area as potential wilderness in 1976 but put that on hold until the farm's 40-year federal permit ended.

As the expiration date approached, the farm became the center of a costly and acrimonious fight that dragged on more than four years, spawned federal investigations and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to underwrite scores of scientific reviews.

"I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape," Salazar said Thursday. The area includes Drakes Estero, an environmentally rich tidal region where explorer Sir Francis Drake is believed to have made landfall more than 400 years ago.

Salazar's decision drew a sharp response from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had championed the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in its fight with the government. Feinstein said in a statement that she was "extremely disappointed" with Salazar's decision.

She had argued that the National Park Service contorted scientific studies to make the case that oyster harvesting operations caused environmental harm to Drakes Estero, a dramatic coastal sweep of five bays in Marin County north of San Francisco.

"The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science," her statement said. "The secretary's decision effectively puts this historic California oyster farm out of business. As a result, the farm will be forced to cease operations and 30 Californians will lose their jobs."

Feinstein had attached a rider to an appropriations bill giving Salazar the unusual prerogative to extend the farm's permit. The company was seeking a 10-year extension of its lease.

Salazar said he gave the matter serious consideration, including taking into account legal advice and park policies. He directed the park service to develop a jobs-training plan for the oyster company's employees and to work with the local community to assist them in finding employment.

The company will have 90 days to remove its racks and other property from park land and waters. When that occurs, the 2,500-acre Drakes Estero will be managed as wilderness, with prohibitions on motorized access to the waterway but allowances for snorkeling, kayaking and other recreation.

The new wilderness will become only the second marine protected area in the national park system and the first in the Lower 48 states. The only current marine wilderness is 46,000 acres in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Environmental groups applauded the decision, which they lobbied for.

"We are ecstatic that this ecological treasure will be forever protected as marine wilderness," said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin.

The heart of the debate is an agreement that Kevin Lunny and his family inherited when they took over a failing oyster operation in the park in 2004. That lease with the park service stipulated that the business would cease operations in 2012.

Kevin Lunny has from the beginning sought to stay on the property and continue harvesting oysters. His farm has an extensive record of violating state and federal agreements and permits. The California Coastal Commission has fined the farm for various violations, issued two cease and desist orders and repeatedly requested that the Lunnys acquire a coastal development permit.

The state agency initiated another enforcement action against the farm earlier this month.

Lunny could not be reached for comment.

The farm's mariculture operation has found support among west Marin County's advocates for sustainable agriculture, who agreed with Lunny that federal and state agencies were unfairly hounding his operation.

His travails have caused alarm among the historic cattle and dairy ranches that operate within the national seashore in a designated pastoral zone. Park officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of curtailing ranching operations, and Salazar echoed that, adding that he wished to extend the terms of the ranch leases from 10 to 20 years.

The Lunny family also has a cattle operation in the park.


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In third trial, man convicted of murdering wife

Bea Hurd wanted a divorce.

The 46-year-old mother of two told friends that her husband, an economist at an accounting firm, was abusive. She confided in her mother that the violence was increasing, that living with her husband was "like living in an armed camp."

Hurd moved out and served divorce papers on her husband. Less than three weeks later, she lay crumpled on the floor of the couple's Culver City home, bleeding from the wound where a single gunshot had pierced her heart.

Exactly what led to Hurd's fatal shooting on the morning of April 17, 1993, has been the center of a legal saga that has endured for nearly two decades.

Prosecutors accused Dale Hurd of luring his wife to their bedroom, where he deliberately shot her to prevent her from taking thousands of dollars in monthly spousal and child support. Dale Hurd described the shooting as a terrible accident, saying his gun malfunctioned as he tried to show it to his wife.

The first jury deadlocked on whether he committed murder. A second, in 1995, convicted him. Two years ago, however, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction, concluding that prosecutors should not have been allowed to tell jurors that Hurd refused to reenact the shooting for police.

A downtown Los Angeles jury on Thursday ended the latest chapter in the long-running case, convicting Hurd, now 62, of murdering his wife for financial gain after a third trial. Hurd, wearing glasses and a dark blue suit, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

"The defense … didn't add up," jury foreman Richard Lynch, an accountant, said after the verdict. "His claims were too far-fetched to believe."

During closing arguments in the trial earlier this week, defense attorney Jeffrey Brodey told jurors that his client had been unfairly portrayed by his wife before her death. Brodey noted that Bea Hurd had started an affair with a friend of her husband's. The attorney argued that the victim told friends and others that Dale Hurd was abusive in an effort to help her case in divorce court.

"She painted him worse than he was," Brodey told jurors.

The shooting occurred the same day that a federal jury announced its verdicts in the trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused of violating Rodney G. King's civil rights. Many local residents were concerned that the verdicts would set off the sort of rioting that was sparked the year before when a Simi Valley jury had acquitted the officers of beating King.

Dale Hurd testified that he and his wife were in their bedroom while the federal jury's verdict was on the television when he tried to show her how to use a gun to protect herself, and the pistol accidentally discharged.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Danette Meyers argued that Hurd murdered his wife when she refused to sign legal papers that would have given her only $1,000 a month in child support, much less than a judge would likely have awarded her based on her husband's $101,000-a-year income from the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand. The shooting occurred 13 days before a judge was scheduled to make a temporary order on support and custody in the divorce case.

"It didn't happen because the defendant decided to brutally eliminate ... his soon-to-be-former wife," Meyers told jurors.

On the morning of the shooting, Bea Hurd went to the family's home, where her husband still lived, to pick up their two children, whom she had dropped off the day before. Charlie, then 4, heard a gunshot and watched his mother stumble down the stairs and collapse, Meyers told jurors. The prosecutor said the boy later told police that "Daddy shot Mommy. Mommy wouldn't sign the papers."

The shot was fired from a distance of one to six inches, at an angle consistent with Bea Hurd sitting or kneeling, Meyers said. The prosecutor noted that Dale Hurd claimed his wife was standing in front of the bedroom's television set when the gun accidentally went off.

Meyers said Dale Hurd followed his wife down the stairs but did not stop to help her. Instead, he picked up his son, carried him to a vehicle outside where his 7-year-old daughter was waiting, put the boy in the back seat, returned to the house and only then called 911.

"Accident? I think not," Meyers told jurors.

Meyers noted that one of Dale Hurd's co-workers, a former Culver City police officer, testified that Hurd told him weeks before the shooting that his wife had left him and asked whether he knew anyone who "could take her out." Numerous friends of Bea Hurd's testified that she was terrified of guns, making it unlikely that she would want her husband to show her a firearm, Meyers argued.

Lynch, the jury foreman, said the panel was convinced that Bea Hurd was, indeed, a victim of domestic violence. Jurors, he said, were also struck by testimony from a work colleague who said that Dale Hurd asked a day before the killing about hollow point bullets and how loud guns are when they are discharged. The bullet used in the shooting was a hollow point.

"It was just too hard for us to disregard," Lynch, 28, said.

He said the panel believed that Dale Hurd was motivated by financial interests but also by the fact that his wife was having an affair with a friend and that he was losing his family. Dale Hurd did not express concern for his wife during his testimony, Lynch said.

"Nobody found him to be a credible witness," the juror said.


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L.A. County seeing high-risk offenders entering its probation system

One year into California's state prison realignment program, Los Angeles County is seeing an unexpected number of high-risk offenders coming into its probation system, including some with a history of severe mental illness.

It remains unclear whether realignment — which shifted responsibility for some nonviolent offenders from prisons to county jails and from state parole to county probation — is having an effect on crime rates. But a report by a county advisory body found that a majority of state prison inmates who have been released to county probation are at a high risk of reoffending.

In the first year of the new system, which took effect in October 2011, 11,136 offenders were released from state prison to Los Angeles County probation. Of those who reported to probation for assessment, 59% were classed as high risk, 40% as medium risk and only 1% as low risk.

The department uses probationers' criminal history and other factors to determine the risk that they will commit new crimes and the resources required to supervise them.

Deputy Chief Reaver Bingham said the department originally projected that 50% of the offenders coming out of state prison would fall into the high-risk category.

And a handful of people previously classified as mentally disordered offenders — people considered dangerous because of mental illness — were downgraded or "decertified" while in state hospitals, making them eligible for county supervision, according to the report issued Thursday by the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee.

County officials said that runs contrary to the spirit of realignment, which was pitched as a money-saving measure for the state that would transfer low-level offenders to less costly county supervision. The committee's report said the decertified mentally disordered offenders "present high public safety risk, present significant placement issues, and consume high levels of resources."

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state corrections department, said the courts, not the department, determine who is decertified and that under the current law, people not classified as mentally disordered who are eligible for realignment are required to go to county supervision.

"It's not for me to say that a given county does or doesn't have the resources to supervise a person who has been decertified," he said.

The committee's report recommended that the county seek legislation to shift back to the state responsibility for probationers formerly designated as mentally disordered offenders as well as "medically fragile" people and prisoners serving long sentences in county jail.


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Lottery panel votes to bring Powerball game to California

Californians griping about not getting their shot at the recent $587.5-million Powerball jackpot won't have much longer to complain.

The California Lottery Commission voted unanimously Thursday to bring the popular multi-state game to California. Tickets, which cost $2 each, will go on sale at licensed lottery merchants in April.

The vote comes a day after the game attracted wide attention for its largest jackpot ever.

"That would have been worth an investment of my dollar, but I didn't want to go all the way to Arizona to buy a ticket," said Alfred Reeves, 51, as he stood by his car outside Country Donut Shop in Long Beach. "Now I won't have to."

California is one of eight states that do not sell Powerball tickets. The others are Utah, Nevada, Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi and Wyoming.

Lottery officials said the game is especially popular because the prize starts at $40 million — compared with the $12-million starting point of the Mega Millions jackpot — and increases by $5 million each time the drawing doesn't produce a winner.

"There's always a bit of a frenzy out there when the jackpot gets up there," said Russ Lopez, a California Lottery Commission spokesman.

The commission believes that adding the Powerball game could add between $90 million and $120 million annually in net revenue. Lottery commission officials said at least $50 million to $100 million of that will go directly to California schools.

At Bluebird Liquor in Hawthorne, a "lucky" market that is legendary for drawing long lotto lines, customers welcomed the Powerball news.

"People here are jumping up and down. We are so excited," said employee Eduardo Duran. "Customers have been asking us about Powerball all week. We've even had a few people tell us they were headed to Arizona to buy tickets."

The process of bringing Powerball to California began last December. Lottery officials first commissioned a study to analyze the logistics of implementing the game in California before ultimately recommending that sales be offered in 2013.

To play Powerball, a participant must purchase a $2 ticket and pick five unique numbers from a field of 1 through 59, and then a Powerball number from 1 through 35. Players can win by matching three or more of the unique numbers, or by matching the Powerball number alone, or by matching the Powerball number and one or more of the five unique numbers. In all, there are nine winning combinations. Players can increase their winnings by paying for a $3 ticket.

Drawings are held twice a week.

Danny Ta, owner of Long Beach Dairy & Liquor, said he will talk to his lottery representative about selling Powerball tickets because he knows the game is in high demand.

"I've had customers always asking me for the game, but I tell them California doesn't have it, only in other states," he said.

Ta said that if he does get the game for his store, he hopes to sell the winning ticket someday.

"Hopefully," he said, smiling.



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Union walkout cripples ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 29 November 2012 | 12.56

A small union of maritime clerks managed to shut down most of the nation's busiest seaport complex Wednesday, raising concerns about harm to the fragile economy.

Although late November is a relatively slow time for cargo movement at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a prolonged closure could prove costly for retailers and manufacturers who rely on the ports to get their goods as well as truckers and other businesses that depend on the docks for work.

"You are stranding goods at ports that handle 40% of the nation's import trade," said Jock O'Connell, an international trade economist who works as an advisor to Beacon Economics.

"The danger here is that this could call into question the reliability of the San Pedro Harbor ports," O'Connell said. "The Wal-Marts and the Home Depots may be forced to think twice about relying on these ports as their primary gateway."

Showing an influence that extended far beyond its numbers, the 800-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63's Office Clerical Unit established picket lines at seven of the eight terminals at the Port of Los Angeles, which is the largest container port in the U.S.

The union, whose members handle most of the paperwork for ships entering and leaving the ports, also struck three of the six terminals at the neighboring Port of Long Beach, which ranks second only to Los Angeles in the amount of container cargo it moves.

The union's picket lines had at least the tacit approval of the larger, 50,000-member ILWU of dockworkers, clerks and other workers who handle all of the cargo on the west coasts of the U.S. and Canada and in Hawaii.

About 10,000 of those dockworkers are employed at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, and they refused to cross the lightly manned picket lines. That left the normally bustling harbor eerily quiet for a Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, with the walkout confined to the APM Terminals at the Port of Los Angeles, an arbitrator ruled that the picket lines were invalid because the union was not bargaining in good faith. The arbitrator ordered union members to return to work Tuesday night, but they refused. Union members have been working without a contract since June 30, 2010.

At the entrance to Long Beach's Total Terminals International, six members of the clerical workers union held signs that said, "On Strike ... For hours, wages & working conditions." Workers on that picket line and six others said they were under strict orders not to talk to the news media.

Officially, the union fell back on a statement released Tuesday evening and had no further comment Wednesday.

In that statement, logistics clerk Trinie Thompson said the workers were "drawing the line against corporate greed and outsourcing that's destroying the good-paying jobs that support working families in our community." The union's primary concern is that its jobs could be transferred to nonunion labor in countries with lower wages.

But the 14 employers involved in the contract negotiations — some of the largest ocean shipping lines and terminal operators in the world — said they hadn't outsourced any jobs. The management group said it had offered "absolute job security" and generous wage and pension increases.

The employers have accused the union of engaging in the practice of "feather bedding," requiring employers to call in temporary employees and hire new permanent employees even when there is no work to perform.

On Wednesday, the management group said the union's conduct "shows an irresponsible willingness to jeopardize port operations and thousands of jobs in the Los Angeles area." If a strike drags on, "the negative effects on jobs and the economy will be felt nationwide," the employers said.

The dispute was raising concerns far beyond the harbor area.

"A work stoppage at America's two busiest ports just as the holiday shopping season begins is a recipe for disaster," said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Assn., a trade group. "If the strike isn't resolved quickly, the effects on retailers, their customers and the economy will be enormous."

A 10-day lockout in 2002 at all West Coast ports left ships piling up offshore, unable to unload cargo. The cost of the dispute was estimated as high as $15 billion.

California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein issued a statement urging a quick resolution of the dispute "so we can protect the economy of the Los Angeles region, the West Coast and our nation, which will be adversely affected by the closures at these ports."

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) said she was backing the port workers.

"I stand in solidarity with the hard-working clerical workers, most of whom are women, of the ILWU Local 63's Office Clerical Unit, who are striking today to prevent their jobs from being sent overseas," Hahn said in a statement. "These workers have been bargaining in good faith for over two years, and I urge a fair resolution that keeps these good-paying jobs" at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.


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LAFD billing firm's leak of personal data under investigation

Federal officials have opened a criminal investigation to determine whether confidential information was obtained illegally on hundreds of patients who rode in Los Angeles Fire Department ambulances, a high-level city lawyer said Wednesday.

The Fire Department has begun informing past patients that personal records, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, were accessed "deliberately and maliciously" by an employee of the company that provides ambulance billing services to the city.

Twenty-six notification letters have gone out so far and more than 900 people may have been victimized in total, said William Carter, chief deputy to City Atty. Carmen Trutanich. Carter said the Internal Revenue Service is one of the agencies conducting the investigation.

The city's ambulance billing duties are handled by Advanced Data Processing Inc., which received nearly $6 million from the Fire Department between June 2011 and Oct. 30, according to City Controller Wendy Greuel. Federal law protects private medical information, Carter said.

In its notification letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, the Fire Department said patient information was used to file fraudulent tax returns as part of a scheme to illegally obtain tax refunds. The department advised the potential victims to call the IRS to determine whether false returns had been filed in their names, and to take steps to protect their credit rating.

Lisa MacKenzie, a spokeswoman for Advanced Data Processing and its subsidiary, Intermedix Corp., said she could not discuss the matter Wednesday. A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said only that Trutanich's office and the Fire Department were working closely with the billing company to investigate the incident.

The confidentiality breach is the latest embarrassment for a department struggling to address dispatching delays and problems with inaccurate 911 response time data. Over the last several months, the agency has found widespread problems with its performance data management, including flaws in a 30-year-old computer system and a lack of adequate training for firefighters working on response time analysis.

Fire Department officials had no comment on the investigation.

The new problems involving patient medical information could increase resistance to the city's efforts to privatize other operations, including management of the Los Angeles Zoo and the Los Angeles Convention Center. The council voted two years ago to take ambulance billing duties away from city employees, despite warnings from union officials that such a move would jeopardize patient information.

"I thought it was wrong to try to privatize ambulance billing for this reason ... and here it's come to pass," said Pat McOsker, president of the city firefighters union. "It's shameful, absolutely shameful, that some city contractor, a private company making a profit off this, has people getting access to people's private information."

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city's top budget official, defended the decision to go with a private billing company. The agreement backed by Villaraigosa and the council, he said, ensured that the contractor is legally liable for any violation of the law that protects patient information.

"Our concern had been that mistakes could occur, and if the city did this work, the city would inherit 100% of the liability," he said.

In 2010, the year the ambulance billing contract was awarded, Advanced Data Processing paid nearly $71,000 to Englander, Knabe and Allen, the City Hall lobbying firm headed by lobbyist Harvey Englander and former Villaraigosa deputy chief of staff Marcus Allen, among others. Budget officials backed the privatization proposal, saying it would allow the Fire Department to focus on its core mission while upgrading its ambulance billing system.

Villaraigosa also weighed in, telling skeptical council members that the contract would help stabilize the city's finances during a budget crisis, make the Fire Department more efficient and, when combined with a second contract, avert $15 million in cuts. Switching to a private company also allowed the department to reduce the staff of its billing operation.

Under its six-year agreement, the contractor receives at least 5% on the net revenue collected from patients transported in LAFD ambulances, according to city records.


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Two Vietnamese American priests removed at Little Saigon parish

In a well-lit gym, the two men in white and gold robes sat on folding chairs, struggling to control their emotions.

The Catholic faithful — grandmothers, fathers, members of a youth ministry — surged forward, offering tributes.

"We will never forget you," parishioner Hieu Hoang said. "To us, you are like our own father. You will always be with us."

"Please don't forget us," another added.

The sudden removal of two Vietnamese American priests at the largest parish serving Little Saigon has left the congregation at St. Barbara's confused and angry. Tithing and attendance at the Roman Catholic church in Santa Ana has fallen off and some worshipers have vowed to stay away until they are told why their spiritual leaders are being sent to parishes elsewhere in Orange County.

But after the priests' final Mass on Sunday, hundreds returned to the church to attend a farewell celebration for Father Michael Mai Khai Hoan and Father Rafael Xuan Nguyen.

The church, which holds Masses in Vietnamese, Spanish and English, has been adopted by immigrants who send their children to its parish school, pack the pews on weekends and steadily fill its collection plates. The church has 4,800 registered families.

The drama at St. Barbara's began unfolding in October, when parishioners were told that the two priests would immediately suspend their duties, isolating them from worshipers. To some the timing seemed odd, given that the church's leader, Pastor Richard Kennedy, was absent on sick leave.

Then last week it was announced that Father Hoan was being dispatched to St. Nicholas Church in Laguna Woods, where he would be senior pastor. Father Xuan Nguyen was moved to Santa Ana as parochial vicar of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Father Augustin Vu is replacing them as parochial vicar at St. Barbara's.

"These actions will not have an impact on the leadership structure at St. Barbara's," said Stephen Bohannon, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange. There has been no official explanation from the diocese for the removal of the priests.

But in the absence of information, rumors filled the void. Some questioned whether the removal was a form of discrimination, or even a punishment aimed at an immigrant congregation.

"This incident has caused a lot of consternation, anger and grief among us. It has lessened our trust and confidence for the top officials of the Diocese," retired Father Thomas Ha Do wrote to the diocese's incoming bishop, Kevin W. Vann. "Vocations for priesthood and religious life will go down and contributions for the new cathedral will suffer a great deal on account of this. It takes us a long time to recover."

Those who attended the farewell ceremony said they have lost something special in the departing priests.

"All the things they have given us — the lessons about love, why we must care for one another — we will remember when we are working so hard and struggling," said Hang Nguyen, a widow with four children who serves as office manager for religious education at the church.

"Even if the priests were to go to another country, we will not lose our ties," says Hieu Hoang, who represents Doan Lien Minh Thanh Tan, a religious group with more than 250 members attending St. Barbara's. "There will be times when we need them and their prayers."

The audience, many bundled in woolen scarves and coats, clapped after each speaker. Women wearing traditional flowing silk ao dai dresses crumbled tissue and sobbed. Cameramen documented the drama, which is airing on Vietnamese cable television.

The priests, their eyes glistening, declined to speculate on what had happened. "Up to this moment, we do not know why we are leaving and suddenly, we got transferred," Father Xuan Nguyen said. "Because we are not clear, we cannot say anything because we do not know anything."

They strolled past the congregation a final time, arms stretched wide to share embraces. After removing their vestments, They climbed into a black Mercedes, which slowly drove away.


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'Most Wanted,' but not by parole officials

SACRAMENTO — Jose Luis Saenz had been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list since 2009, with a $100,000 bounty and his face in post offices across the United States before he was captured last week.

But amid the international hunt for Saenz — also known as "Peanut Joe Smiley," among other aliases, authorities say — California parole officials dropped their warrant for his arrest and dismissed the alleged killer and Mexican drug cartel associate from parole.

California "no longer had jurisdiction over Saenz," agency spokesman Luis Patino said Wednesday. He cited a 2009 state law, meant to reduce prison crowding, requiring nonviolent felons to be placed on unsupervised parole and not returned to jail unless convicted of a new crime.

The law says the Board of Parole Hearings should reserve such discharges for those who are unlikely to re-offend, are not proven members of a prison gang and have not refused to sign papers agreeing to police searches. Saenz was wanted for four gang- and drug-related killings and believed by the FBI to be working for a Mexican drug cartel.

The state already faces scrutiny of its ongoing effort to purge thousands more parole warrants as part of Gov. Jerry Brown's program to ease state prison crowding and cut spending. The corrections agency has been reviewing the cases of more than 9,200 parolees who long ago disappeared.

The FBI announced last week that Saenz had been captured in Mexico, living in an apartment above a beauty salon. He was taken to Los Angeles, where he is being held pending arraignment on charges of the killings as well as rape and kidnapping.

The agent who signed the original arrest warrant against Saenz for a parole violation said the state had bungled the matter. "There's no rhyme or reason for them to discharge him.… I knew he was dangerous," said the agent, Caroline Aguirre, who is now retired.

Aguirre said she had supervised Saenz for several months in early 1998, when he stopped meeting with her and she could not find him. In July of that year, authorities allege, he killed two rival gang members and, two weeks later, kidnapped, raped and executed his girlfriend out of fear that she would go to police. Prosecutors say it is Saenz who appears in an October 2008 surveillance video executing a Whittier man over a $500,000 drug debt.

Saenz was believed to be on the run in Mexico in mid-August when, according to case records obtained by The Times, the state Board of Parole Hearings discharged him. The documents include a notation that he remained at large and that he had been placed under "high control" supervision.

Asked if the FBI was concerned that the parole warrant for Saenz had been dropped, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller suggested it didn't really matter. "The murder warrant was good," she said.

Saenz had only been convicted of a minor narcotics charge. Patino said that "a careful legal review" left no choice but to consider him a low-level offender, regardless of the murder allegations.

Parole agents had participated in an international task force searching for the fugitive. Nevertheless, he was discharged from parole Aug. 17.

An official of the state parole officers' union said agents don't typically look for pending warrants.

"Normally we run a criminal rap sheet, but we don't do a warrant check," said Todd Gillam, a parole officer and vice president of the Parole Agent Assn. of California.

The state's reliance on criminal history checks, which are incomplete, was the subject of a critical report by the office of inspector general last year. Based on such checks, more than 1,450 violence- and drug-prone inmates had been mistakenly released as unsupervised parolees, the inspector general found.

Corrections officials blamed a computer glitch and said they would fix the program but would make no effort to return any of the released offenders to prison or put them on supervised parole.

Prison officials said California's 9,200 outstanding parole warrants clog court files and obscure the most serious cases. But agents said those warrants are valuable, allowing a prosecutor to hold a violator without bail while buying time to develop a case and press other charges.

The warrants are "a very effective criminal justice tool," Gillam said.


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Most L.A. County youths held for prostitution come from foster care

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 28 November 2012 | 12.56

A majority of juveniles arrested on prostitution charges in Los Angeles County come from the county's foster care system, and, in some cases, pimps use underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents, county officials said.

Until now, foster youth caught in the sex trade have largely been the responsibility of the county Probation Department.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to launch a multiagency task force to address the ongoing issue of sex trafficking involving youth in the foster care system. The move was spurred in part by this month's passage of an anti-sex-trafficking ballot measure, which county officials said will shift much of the responsibility for juvenile prostitutes from the criminal justice system to the foster care system.

Of the 174 juveniles arrested on prostitution-related charges in Los Angeles County in 2010, 59% were in the foster care system, according to Probation Department statistics. The department has launched initiatives to address the issue of sex trafficking, including running prevention workshops in juvenile halls.

But underage sex workers may no longer fall under the Probation Department's jurisdiction.

Proposition 35, which imposes tougher penalties on pimps, also includes language that decriminalizes prostitution for minors caught up in the trade — although there is debate about the effects of that change. But officials fear that greater numbers of young people involved in prostitution will become the responsibility of the county Department of Children and Family Services. Department director Philip Browning said his agency is "really unprepared at this point" to handle such an influx.

Browning and others said the department is not empowered to keep children in group homes and other placements against their will, and can't prevent them from running away. Emilio I. Mendoza, a children services' program manager, said many young sex workers fear they will be punished by their pimps if they don't leave foster homes when they have an opportunity do so.

"These kids see themselves as having no way out unless they're in a secure setting," he said.

Probation camps and juvenile halls provide that security. But advocates say the criminal justice system is not the proper setting for young victims of abuse and coercion.

"They should not be treated as the criminal. They are a victim. The pimps should be treated as the criminal and given long prison sentences," said county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who proposed the task force. Antonovich said during Tuesday's meeting that the trafficking issue came to the county board's attention early this year, when they learned that young girls were serving as prostitutes around Staples Center after Lakers games.

The task force includes county children's services, probation and mental health workers as well as law enforcement officials. It will examine the scope of the foster youth prostitution problem and report back with recommendations in six months.

But Lois Lee, founder of a Los Angeles-based, 24-bed shelter for child sex workers called Children of the Night, said she is skeptical of the claim that kids in the foster system are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The majority of the shelter's clients were under the legal guardianship of their parents when they arrived, according to the organization's 2011 annual report.

"They're kids that [the Department of Children and Family Services] left behind in the first place," Lee said.


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Man who set his two children ablaze pleads guilty

When asked how he pleaded to the murder of his 11-year-old daughter, Ashley, the father — his once full cheeks sunken and his skin now a pasty white against the dark green of the suicide prevention frock — was silent for a few seconds, his eyes wandering blankly as if in a daze.

He then croaked something barely audible. An interpreter repeated it loud and clear: "Guilty."

As he admitted also murdering his 10-year-old son, Alexander, Dae Kwon Yun dropped his head to his chest. Even as his attorney discussed his multiple suicide attempts in jail and as the judge spoke of the horrific crime he had committed when he doused an SUV in gasoline and set it on fire with his two children inside, the 61-year-old father refused to look up.

"It's beyond my imagination how someone can blow up their children," Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus said, sentencing Yun on Tuesday to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. "From my vantage point there is no justification."

Yun's attorneys said that although it may not be justification, there was a complex backdrop to the murder-suicide attempt six years ago — culture, mental illness, a life in shambles after his business crumbled and his marriage fell apart. He was the oldest son in a family of nine children, saddled with expectations and responsibilities, unable to admit failure, show weakness or ask for help.

"His mental state has been fragile before Day One. That's why we had a Day One," said his attorney, Casey Lilienfeld, calling the life sentence a "just" outcome.

In exchange for Yun's guilty plea, prosecutors said Tuesday that they would no longer seek the death penalty.

"This was a horrific crime with horrific results," Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian said outside court. "The sentence will assure justice will be served."

A probation officer who evaluated the case wrote that for Yun, capital punishment would have been a reprieve.

"It is the belief of this officer that the death penalty would allow the defendant to avoid the punishment which is appropriate for his crimes," the officer wrote in a 2008 report made public Tuesday. "It is therefore believed the best interest of the community will be served by a sentence to state prison for as long a period of time as his natural life provides."

The Toyota Sequoia parked in a deserted alley in downtown Los Angeles erupted in flames on a Sunday afternoon in April 2006, a few weeks after the businessman shut down his T-shirt manufacturing business and his wife of 13 years filed for divorce. Shortly before the blaze, witnesses saw Yun shouting at his daughter before shoving her into the back seat of his car.

After the vehicle went up in flames — with all three inside — Yun rolled out of the SUV onto the ground with his legs aflame, a witness recalled at a preliminary hearing. Yun yelled for help, but never once gestured toward his children inside the burning vehicle, the witness said.

The children's deaths horrified Los Angeles' Korean community, a shock that was multiplied when within days of the attack, two other Korean men committed murder-suicides, one in Echo Park and another in Fontana.

According to the probation report, Yun, while he was being treated for his burns, told detectives that he had contemplated killing himself and his children for months because he was angry with his wife.

His wife and the children's mother, Sun Ok Ma, testified that he had repeatedly beaten her and threatened to kill her and burn down their home, leading to their separation and divorce. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to beating Ma, and was sentenced to two years' probation.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace, another prosecutor on the case, said Tuesday that the attack was "definitely premeditated," noting that Yun purchased the gasoline, picked an isolated location and parked the car up against a loading dock, making it difficult for the doors to open.

Prosecutors told the judge that Ma had been informed of the plea and sentencing, but said she did not want to make a statement.

Yun's attorneys asked that their client receive mental health treatment in prison and be kept in protective custody, saying he was suicidal and would be a target for violence from other inmates.

The man has shown "tremendous remorse" for his crime, attorney Christopher Apostal said. Yun has attempted suicide at least three times since his arrest, his attorneys said, and has been placed on the highest level of suicide watch with around-the-clock monitoring.

The judge said he would make the recommendations but declined the attorneys' request that Yun be housed in Southern California to accommodate visits from his family. Marcus said the decision was up to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and that the man should not receive "special treatment."


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27 indicted in Mexican Mafia drug case in Ventura County

From a prison cell outside California, an inmate known as "Evil" was making himself known on Ventura County's streets.

Martin Madrigal, 39, was squeezing drug profits from street gangs for the prison-based Mexican Mafia, according to a grand jury indictment released Tuesday. He was so feared that rival gangs cooperated on extortion schemes, drug deals and violent crimes, according to law enforcement officials.

The 35-count indictment portrays Madrigal as a powerful figure representing an efficient and merciless organization that law enforcement officials believe has been operating for decades, largely from behind bars, calling shots among street gangs. He was one of 27 people named in the indictment, 24 of whom have been arrested. Officials declined to disclose where or why Madrigal is serving time.

The forced cooperation among rival gangs alleged in the indictment may be a sign that Mexican drug cartels are attempting to extend their authority over California drug trafficking, according to Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis.

Madrigal operated as a kind of regional manager, with a Ventura County gang member named Edwin "Sporty" Mora enforcing his decisions on the street with a written hit list from Madrigal and "permission to conduct extortion on behalf of the Mexican Mafia," according to the indictment. In one of the document's counts, Mora is said to have indicated that a gang member named Little Rudy "was going to kick in money by Wednesday and if he can't make that happen, Mora wanted the fool in the dirt."

Dozens of weapons, including an AK47, were confiscated during a series of arrests starting in May and ending earlier this month.

The Ventura County probe, dubbed Operation Wicked Hand, started with two shootings in Moorpark in April and a heroin bust about the same time.

"We soon came to realize the incidents weren't happenstance," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

Sheriff's officials said investigators thwarted several crimes, including two planned killings and a drugstore robbery.

Officials would not reveal details of how the investigation was conducted. The indictment, returned Nov. 14, makes it clear authorities had access to text messages and phone calls that gang members made among themselves.

More than 70 officers from the Sheriff's Department participated in the investigation, as well as officers from the Oxnard Police Department and other agencies.

"This case has dealt a crushing blow to organized crime in Ventura County," Pentis said. "We have incapacitated the organization from the top through its geographic managers."

Bail for those arrested, including two juveniles, ranges from $1 million to $5 million. Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said a number of suspects are facing multiple charges, and three are facing possible life sentences under the state's three-strikes law.

Totten said his office submitted the case to a criminal grand jury rather than opting for a preliminary hearing because of its complexity and the ongoing investigation's need for secrecy.

The indictment names more individuals than any other in Ventura County's history, he said.


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Having a little less to chew on

I've got two reasons to watch my weight over the next several weeks. First, it's the holiday season, when the national sport is overeating. Second, I've got another knee replacement coming up soon, and the lighter I am going in, the easier the recovery will be.

Maybe that's why I've been noticing the county's public service ad campaign around town. The ads are on billboards and transit shelters, among other places, and each one examines two different meal options.

The double cheeseburger, large fries and large cola depicted on one ad, for example, add up to 1,250 calories. But scale back to a cheeseburger, small fries and small cola, and the damage is a mere 680 calories.

This theme is repeated with sandwiches, pizza and breakfast. You can stuff yourself with four pancakes, two fried eggs and four strips of bacon, then waddle away under the weight of 1,050 calories. Or, if you think you can survive with two fewer pancakes and two fewer pieces of bacon, you're down to 650 calories.

"Choose Less. Weigh Less," says the text on the ads, which also say: "2,000 calories a day is all most adults need."

Says who?

Says the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which got $1 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund the ad campaign.

This kind of government preaching has been lambasted as nanny state nonsense in some parts of the country, most notably in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned the sale of sugary soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants and movie theaters.

But Jonathan Fielding, L.A. County's public health director, counters that in a county that's had a 74% increase in adult obesity between 1997 and 2011, something has to be done. "Our obesity epidemic," said Fielding, is responsible for "a huge portion" of disabling and potentially fatal conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Those diseases cost all of us through higher insurance rates and a bigger tax burden. So I don't have a problem with trying to counteract the billions spent to promote fast food and junk food. And as Fielding noted, this campaign (which you can learn more about at http://www.choosehealthla.com) is part of a broader effort to promote more healthful lifestyles.

Some of the advice from the county is a little simplistic, to be honest. We're advised to replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl, save half for later and "avoid mindless munching in front of the TV."

Then again, we're a bunch of hopeless dummies when it comes to diet, paying small fortunes for personal instructors and kooky weight-loss plans when there's a sure-fire program that costs nothing at all:

Eat a little less, exercise a little more.

There's an element of that simplicity in the portion-control campaign. We're not told to kick the pancake habit and switch to dried kelp with toasted flax seed, but to eat fewer pancakes.

"That's smart," said Nicky De Marinis, who said he's lost 15 pounds in four months by eating a little less of everything rather than eliminating anything.

I bumped into De Marinis, who owns Nicky D's Pizza in Silver Lake, near one of the pancake ads in Los Feliz. If his pizza wasn't so good, I told him, it'd be easier for me to lose weight.

"Don't eat the whole pizza," said De Marinis. He was with his wife, Bunny, who said she remembered when a soft drink was served in a sensible cup and a cookie wasn't the size of a Frisbee.

"I hate to say it," said Nicky, "but maybe we need to stop putting so much pasta on the plate at the restaurant."

Cornell University professor Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," says L.A. County is using a smart approach in a society programmed to overindulge.

"You're going in the right direction to say, 'Eat what you want, but eat a little less,' " said Wansink.

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Schuller, family to be paid a fraction of millions they sought

Written By kolimtiga on Selasa, 27 November 2012 | 12.56

Robert H. Schuller — the founder of Crystal Cathedral and the face of the globally watched "Hour of Power" television program —and his family will be paid just a fraction of the millions they sought from the preacher's bankrupt ministry.

Schuller's daughter, Carol Milner, described Monday's ruling on intellectual property, copyright infringement and contract violations as a "travesty" that leaves the family no choice but to "start liquidating everything."

"It's an avoidance of responsibility for an organization to not take care of those who have gone before them. It's tragic," she said. "But sometimes tragedies speak louder than other stories."

Schuller alone had sought $5 million, and additional claims from the family — some that did not state specific amounts — would have pushed the family's demand far higher. The court gave the family slightly less than $700,000.

The ruling marks a final chapter in the financial unraveling of a ministry that once made Schuller a powerhouse in American Christianity.

The bankruptcy was "long and painful for everyone involved, and our congregation is ready to move on," said John Charles, the chief executive of Crystal Cathedral.

The ministry, which is now estranged from Schuller and has struggled to fill collection plates, will vacate the glass-panned cathedral in Garden Grove next summer and hold services in a Catholic church.

Monday's ruling out of Los Angeles bankruptcy court also clears the way for Crystal Cathedral's remaining creditors — some of them small-time vendors who helped stage the church's opulent Christmas and Easter services — to collect on more than $12 million they claim they are owed by the Garden Grove-based ministry.

Because of the Schuller family claims, creditors were delayed payments. Now the creditors could be paid off before the end of the year, said Nannette Sanders, an attorney who worked on the case.

"It's the result we had hoped for," Sanders said.

Other creditors chose not to wait for the closure of the 2010 bankruptcy, and some — such as the Riverside County business that provided the camels, donkeys and sheep for the church's Christmas pageant — have sold their claims to firms that purchase debt.

Wes Lassen, a contractor from Running Springs who is owed about $2,100 for services he performed three years ago, said the money will help him "substantially."

"It might actually keep me in business another year," he said.

The ruling cut short a10-day trial focused on unpaid contracts and copyright infringement claims filed by Schuller, his wife, Arbela, his daughter and his son-in-law.

Judge Robert N. Kwa wrote that Schuller will receive about $600,000 because he failed to prove that intellectual property and copyright violations took place. Less than $100,000 will be divided by other family members.

As attorneys read the lengthy ruling in court Monday, Schuller and his wife held hands and waited silently.

In the 55-page ruling, Kwa referenced Schuller's testimony earlier this month in which the pastor, 86, said that the Crystal Cathedral never infringed on his intellectual property rights. Schuller appeared to not remember when he founded the "Hour of Power" and also said he was still on the board of directors for the Crystal Cathedral.

The ministry, once known for its showy services and uplifting sermons, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010, citing $50 million in debt.

The claims led to Schuller and his wife's resignation from the ministry's board of directors. Within days, his daughter, then the senior pastor, left the church to start her own ministry, effectively severing all ties that the founding family had to the church.

"We love the Schullers and wish them well," Charles said.


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Under fire from labor, Riordan abandons pension overhaul plan

Public employee unions scored a major victory Monday as former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan abandoned his campaign to take a pension overhaul plan to voters next year.

The sudden retreat followed an attack by organized labor on a plan that Riordan said is vital to avoiding municipal bankruptcy. City leaders are coping with a financial crisis and will ask voters next spring for a sales tax increase to avert more cuts. Riordan argued that City Hall should reduce employee pension benefits instead.

The failure of Riordan's ballot drive could push the pension issue further into the background of the 2013 mayoral race. Three City Hall insiders in the contest have criticized the plan, while a Republican outsider has embraced it.

"This does take the heat off the mayoral candidates" on pensions, said Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A. "It makes it not as much of an issue, because there's not something looming on the ballot."

Riordan's proposal, targeted for the May ballot, would have replaced guaranteed retirement payments with 401(k)-style investment accounts for new employees. It also would have scaled back benefits for existing workers. City Hall unions fought back, dogging Riordan's paid signature-gatherers at malls and supermarkets and demanding that the former mayor debate the president of the powerful LAPD officers' union.

Riordan, 82, who suffered a heart attack last year and had a medical scare this month that sent him to the hospital, said his health played no role in his decision to suspend his campaign. His self-imposed Dec. 28 deadline to gather 265,000 valid signatures, not the union assault, was his biggest obstacle, he said.

He remained unbowed Monday, promising to keep pushing for major changes in city pension programs and raising the possibility of a similar ballot measure in a future election.

"I'm going to be heard until this city government does something to avoid bankruptcy," he said. "I cannot stand seeing the city of L.A. ruined.... This city is going to be in rubble."

Monday's announcement marked a high-profile setback for the former mayor, the only Republican to lead the city in at least half a century. A spokesman said Riordan spent more than $500,000 on the campaign.

Riordan, who was mayor from 1993 to 2001, had hoped to replicate successful pension overhaul efforts in San Diego and San Jose, where voters this year agreed to sizable reductions in benefits.

But Kent Wong, director of the Center for Labor Research and Education at UCLA, said Riordan faced an uphill fight in heavily Democratic, labor-friendly Los Angeles. "It would have been a much harder sell here," he said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council members have pursued a series of changes in recent years to control rising retirement costs. Last year, they persuaded voters to trim pension benefits for newly hired police officers. And last month, facing the threat of Riordan's ballot measure, council members voted to roll back benefits for new civilian employees.

Those changes followed warnings from budget officials that pension costs were on track to consume 26% of the city's general fund budget by 2016, up from 19% this year. Revised numbers have not been released since the council's recent pension changes. But Assistant City Administrative Officer Ray Ciranna predicted that the savings from recent pension changes would be "minimal" over the next two years, with bigger cost reductions in future years.

Riordan denounced the city's efforts to date as too timid, and noted that his proposed shift to a 401(k)-type retirement system would apply to all new employees, including police and firefighters. That ignited huge opposition from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents roughly 10,000 rank-and-file officers.

The union depicted backers of the measure as a "billionaire boys club" and chided Riordan for failing to obtain an actuarial study that would determine the financial effects of his initiative. The union said Riordan's plan would cost the city money because new hires would no longer be financially supporting existing pension systems.

Civilian employee unions waged a different strategy, sending members to malls and grocery stores to counter Riordan's signature-gatherers. Union organizers approached voters who signed Riordan's petition and sought to persuade them that they made a mistake. They then asked them to sign a document requesting the city clerk to remove their names from the pension petition.

Ian Thompson, spokesman with Service Employees International Union, Local 721, said his organization had gathered 8,000 signatures from voters who wanted their names dropped. The union also had a "rapid response team" to make sure that if a city employee saw a signature-gatherer at a neighborhood mall or market, someone would show up to ask people not to sign. "We were fully prepared to continue until the end," Thompson said.

Los Angeles' political leadership also was cool to Riordan's plan. Three of the four mayoral candidates — City Council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry and City Controller Wendy Greuel — declined to support the proposal. Of the top contenders, only former federal prosecutor Kevin James had endorsed Riordan's measure.

And when Riordan spoke at a council meeting last week, he was dressed down by Council President Herb Wesson, who smiled and asked him why he didn't fix the city's budget problems when he was mayor.

Riordan started to respond, but Wesson shut off his microphone. "There's no back and forth. I get the last word," said Wesson, adding: "This is our house."

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Man suspected of plotting to join Al Qaeda is held without bail

A Riverside man arrested on suspicion of plotting to join Al Qaeda with three other suspects was ordered Monday to be held without bail until trial.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym found that Arifeen Gojali, 21, was too much of a flight risk and danger to the community, based on the allegations by federal investigators.

Gojali was led by federal marshals into U.S. District Court in Riverside on Monday, bound by handcuffs and leg irons and wearing a bright orange, jail-issued uniform. He showed little emotion during the hearing, chatting briefly with his attorney, John Aquilina.

Aquilina told the judge that neither his client nor his family had the financial means to post bail.

"If we can't get over that hurdle, what's the point?" Aquilina told reporters outside the courtroom after the brief hearing.

Gojali and three other men from the Inland Empire have been accused of plotting to join Al Qaeda or the Taliban in Afghanistan to attack American troops or coalition forces.

Gojali and two other suspects, Bart Deleon of Ontario, 24, and Miguel Santana of Upland, were arrested during a vehicle stop in Chino on Nov. 16, a day after they booked airline tickets from Mexico to Afghanistan.

Deleon and Santana are being held without bail. The alleged ringleader, Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, was taken into custody the next day. Kabir has lived in Pomona and served a year in the U.S. Air Force.

The native Afghan and naturalized U.S. citizen converted Deleon and Santana to Islam in 2010, then left for Afghanistan, intent on joining the Taliban or Al Qaeda and paving the way for Santana and Deleon to join him, according to authorities.

Santana and Deleon allegedly recruited Gojali in September. Deleon's attorney, Randolph K. Driggs, last week criticized the federal government's case for hinging on evidence gathered by a paid confidential informant who had been convicted of drug-related charges.

The informant, who received $250,000 from the FBI and "immigration benefits" for his work over a four-year period, infiltrated the group in March and wore recording devices that provided evidence crucial to the case.


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San Bernardino council votes to slash budget more than $26 million

The City Council of San Bernardino, which is in bankruptcy and facing a $45.8-million budget shortfall, voted Monday to slash more than $26 million in spending and freeze debt payments as the municipality struggles to stay afloat.

The austerity plan, a required step in the federal bankruptcy process, freezes vacancies in the Police Department even as the city deals with an increase in violent crime. The Fire Department's overtime budget was slashed by 35%.

The city had already stopped making payments to CalPERS, the state's public employee pension fund, since filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection Aug. 1, a move city officials estimate will save more than $12 million.

The council voted 5 to 2 in favor of the plan, which both Mayor Patrick Morris and City Atty. James Penman said was a mandatory step in the effort to restructure the city's debts and repair its finances under federal bankruptcy protection.

At a recent hearing, federal Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury told San Bernardino officials that she expected the budget-cutting plan to be filed soon. Some of the city's creditors have argued that San Bernardino does not qualify to file for municipal bankruptcy protection.

"We have a mountain to climb here," Morris said during Monday's meeting at City Hall.

Councilman Chas Kelley blasted the budget-cutting plan for being shortsighted and not addressing San Bernardino's long-term financial health, which he said depends on attracting business and expanding the middle class.

"This budget is a financial equivalent of using leeches to bleed a sick patient," Kelley said. "There is no vision in this budget for our city's economic renewal."

Joining Kelley in voting against the plan was Councilman John Valdivia, who objected to freezing the police force "in a city with all-time-high crime rate levels." The city has 299 sworn officers in the current budget, although 18 positions have been vacant.

Councilwoman Wendy McCammack acknowledged that many of the cuts were objectionable but said the council had little choice but to make the tough decisions demanded by the bankruptcy process. Failing to do so, she said, would lead to the city dissolving and being governed by the county.


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Review of Burbank Police Department finds deficiencies

Written By kolimtiga on Senin, 26 November 2012 | 12.56

A recent report on the Burbank Police Department's internal investigations and its responses to officers' use of force found deficiencies in timeliness, evidence gathering and problem spotting.

The report by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, which the city hired last year for department oversight, comes at a time when the law enforcement agency is reeling from excessive-force allegations, officer-involved lawsuits and a federal investigation into alleged officer misconduct.

The report did note some improvements compared with "below baseline" cases from previous years.

"The consensus we found, generally speaking, was that the [investigative] efforts by your Police Department were really an objective search for truth," said Michael Gennaco, chief attorney on the review board. "That doesn't mean every investigation was perfect."

The team of attorneys reviewed six internal investigations and 11 use-of-force incidents that were closed this year.

Gennaco's biggest concern was the time it took to complete the investigations. Of the six internal investigations reviewed, one had expired. The officer was never disciplined for failing to document a sexual battery allegation because the investigation wasn't finished on time.

State law gives officials one year to complete internal investigations.

"The worst thing you want to do is have an officer who should have been held accountable not be held accountable because of a technicality," Gennaco said.

In another case, an officer was interviewed eight months after the incident in question and couldn't recall the details, making it difficult "to challenge the officer," he said.

Most investigations, however, were completed within a few months of the incidents.

The report found that the department's use-of-force response protocols were thoughtful and thorough, although they were not always fully implemented.

Pointing out shortcomings in witness interviews, the report cited a case involving use of force against a juvenile: The suspect's story differed from the officer's, but other officers who had been there were not interviewed.

The review board also discovered instances in which suspects' injuries weren't prioritized. A suspect who had been kicked by an officer — in the same spot where he'd been shot years earlier — complained of stomach pain three times before he was sent to a medical facility.

Another suspect, who was said to be intoxicated and uncooperative when arrested, complained of pain for two days while in custody. It was discovered later that his finger was broken.

Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse said the department has been implementing changes to address the review board's concerns.

"Today, there's probably more strict instruction in terms of taking complaints and doing a full, complete investigation," LaChasse said.

Gennaco commended the city for its transparency.

"It's going to be uncomfortable for some — change always is, transparency always is," he said. "The curtain's been thrown open. Light has been allowed in."


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School's no-running policy is making mom gain weight

If I gain a few pounds this holiday season, I'm going to blame the anti-obesity program at my children's school.

Does that sound like the worst dieting excuse ever? I submit that such (deep fried) pretzel logic comes with being a parent in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

My children attend a Spanish immersion program in Highland Park. It's a good school, with caring teachers and a committed principal.

But like a lot of campuses in Los Angeles, Aldama Elementary has paved blacktop instead of a grassy playing field. With that comes a vexing rule: For safety's sake, children are discouraged from running free during recess, regardless of the obesity epidemic or the wealth of studies showing that exercise helps children focus.

Four years ago, some parents — aghast at their children's tales of being benched for running, and in despair at the havoc that children pent up all day could inflict when they got home — begged school officials to let the children run. But they were immovable (pun intended) and the rule stayed.

Then, a solution presented itself, although it was a solution dripping with saturated fat. The PTA partnered with Playworks, a nonprofit dedicated to improving play and physical fitness, to raise money for a coach to conduct running games at recess. The catch: Parents pay for it, in part, by buying, selling and, alas, eating cheesecake. A lot of cheesecake, $14,000 worth of it this fall alone.

"The irony ... is not lost on me," said Janelle McGlothlin, a member of the PTA's grants committee. But healthier fundraisers, like jog-a-thons and read-a-thons, failed to raise much cash. "The cheesecake sale makes way more money than anything else," she said.

So the parents sell cheesecake. But some also fume. What does it say about how we educate children that school officials would frown on running in a state where officials recently announced that only one in three kids are physically fit? What does it say that we would urge them to take time away from reading and playing to sell cheesecake, when one in five elementary school-age children in L.A. County is overweight?

Getting to the bottom of why the rule existed — or even what the rule actually was — was exercise in itself.

I spoke with Christopher Ortiz, the district's director of school operations, who said that LAUSD does not prohibit running. But it does set guidelines for safety, which, he acknowledged, can result in de facto limits on running, especially on campuses where there is no grass. (Why they have no grass is another story. Still another one is why so many campuses are locked up like Fort Knox on weekends and evenings in communities where there are few parks.)

"Many of our schools … have very limited space," Ortiz said. "The play areas are very narrow ... so as a principal you have to determine what can children do in terms of physical activity that will be safe."

At many campuses, school officials have come up with rules that permit running during organized, supervised games, such as kickball, but discourage wild games of tag or spontaneous free-for-alls where kids run wild.

But by the time it trickles down to children, the nuance can get lost.

One morning, I asked my son, who is in kindergarten, what the purpose of school was. The answer I was going for was something along the lines of "learning" or even "having fun."

He thought for a minute, then said soberly: "No running."

Ortiz, who was a principal himself for years, said he's never had a parent complain. "Would you have wanted me to permit wholesale running during recess?" Ortiz asked. "Or would you want me to make sure your kid is safe?"

I thought about this. Of course I want my kids to be safe. And I'm not oblivious to the risks of hundreds of kids blasting like maniacs across a small paved area. My daughter is only in second grade, but already, two of her friends have hurt themselves at school; one broke a bone, the other required stitches after a fall.

So, yes, the rules make sense. Until you remember how kids play. They don't always favor organized, supervised rounds of kickball. They like to hurl their little bodies through space, devising their own games, making up their own characters and scenarios, changing the rules every 45 seconds and, it is true, smashing into each other and falling down. That is one of the ways they explore the world, one of the ways they learn.

When I was about my daughter's age, my friends and I used to race across my school's grassy playing field at recess, and — in violation of numerous rules — we'd sneak through the woods, scramble over an old log, and run down a muddy hill onto a vacant field where no one could see us.

I can still recall how free we felt on that field, as if it were our own private fairyland, even though all we did was stand there. And I remember too the joyful exhilaration of our blood pumping through our bodies as we ran back to class when the bell rang, our legs carrying us so fast we were almost flying. That has stayed with me more vividly than anything I might have learned in second grade.

Still, now that I'm a parent, I'm less thrilled at the idea of my own children scrambling around alone in the woods. And the recess coach our PTA hired with the cheesecake money knows his job: The kids love his games.

So next time my kids come home with yet more pamphlets, hawking yet more overpriced sugary treats that I will be powerless to resist, I'll do my bit. But the taste is bittersweet.


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For two L.A. schools, sharing a campus is starting to chafe

Three years ago, Logan Street Elementary looked like the perfect spot for high-performing, growing Gabriella Charter School. Logan, a low-performing neighborhood school with declining enrollment, had room to spare.

But Logan has begun to rebound, opening up a language program with teaching in both Spanish and English and adding middle-school grades. And its test scores have risen.

Now the Echo Park campus is becoming too small for two burgeoning operations: an improving traditional school and an exemplary charter. Neither intends to surrender its hold on the campus.

The situation exemplifies issues that arise when schools must share campuses. Across the Los Angeles Unified School District, 58 charters operate alongside neighborhood schools. Charters have fit in comfortably on new campuses, such as Synergy Kinetic Academy at the Nava Learning Center in South Los Angeles. There are more logistical hurdles and resistance at older schools.

The California Charter Schools Assn. is battling L.A. Unified in court over access to campuses. For many charters, which are publicly funded and independently operated, locating and paying for real estate is a persistent challenge. Charters argue that the district should provide more classrooms, given that L.A. Unified has declining enrollment and about 1 in 8 of its students attend charters.

Under state law, charters have a right to district facilities that are "reasonably equivalent" to regular district schools'. But these arrangements cover only one year at a time; charters risk having to change locations frequently.

The Gabriella deal was an attempt to prevent such a disruption. L.A. Unified agreed to let Gabriella, which operated about two miles away near MacArthur Park, move to Logan starting in the 2009-10 school year. The district this month renewed Gabriella's charter for five years, which, under the deal, automatically included letting it stay at Logan. The renewal never was in doubt — Gabriella has some of the highest test scores in the state, with an enrollment that is 90% low-income, minority students.

L.A. Unified also spent $2 million in voter-approved construction bonds to convert a portion of a Logan classroom building into two fully outfitted dance studios that opened in 2010. The charter's most distinctive feature is a comprehensive, daily dance program for all students. After school, the studios are used by a community dance program, run by Gabriella's founders, that is offered for $7 a month.

The studios are emblematic of the uneasy coexistence. They are the major recent upgrade to the well-worn campus and off limits to Logan students during the school day. A handful take dance after school, but the program serves a broad area, and vacancies are filled by lottery.

Only Logan uses the cafeteria for meals. Gabriella students eat outside at tables — or in classrooms when it rains.

The asphalt playground is split by orange cones, which are shifted to allow each school rotating access to different play areas.

Logan's expansion through eighth grade has added complications. Given the smaller, divided playground, Logan doesn't let its middle-schoolers use the playground during their morning break and lunch. And one day a week, eighth-graders remain in classrooms for physical education because Gabriella has the entire playground at that time.

Gabriella forbids its students from using the playground before school, dissatisfied with the level of supervision.

The charter school, which also runs through eighth grade, has stretched beyond its original bungalows into two other buildings.

When needed classroom space wasn't forthcoming last year, Gabriella converted its office into a classroom and occupied the auditorium as an ad hoc office and storage space. L.A. Unified officials ordered them out — but quickly provided the needed classroom.

Logan's low point in enrollment was two years ago, when it had 475 students. It's now up to 550. Gabriella has 436. The campus is now as packed as it was in 2000, when Logan was considered overcrowded.

Logan supporters insist it's unfair for Gabriella students to crowd their campus when about two-thirds live outside the attendance area; Gabriella insists that about two-thirds come from "greater Echo Park." Anyone can apply; admission is by lottery when oversubscribed.

Some of the resistance to Gabriella is born of the area's traditionally liberal, pro-union roots; activists have opposed all charter schools in the neighborhood, at least partly because most are non-union.

There's also resentment over Gabriella providing smaller classes and more frequent maintenance.

The campus lacks science labs for the middle school students, not to mention a gym, a functioning library and a playground with green space.

"I think all the students at both schools are getting hurt," said Tad Yenawine, a parent on Logan's leadership council. "It's pretty clear a solution needs to be found. The only way this really works is that Gabriella moves."

Gabriella administrators said they intend to make do as things are.

"Being charter people, we're used to being creative with space," Principal Lisa Rooney said. "We can make it work with what we have."

Mollie Jones, a Gabriella parent, agreed.

"We have different buildings and entrances," she said. "The layout is a little random, but the focus here is on learning. The fact that we share the campus with another school is probably the least interesting thing about the school."


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University's neighbors complain about student parking

On a recent stroll in her Westchester neighborhood, Leslie Rittenour watched a dusty white Cherokee with Washington plates wedge its way into a small parking spot on the street in front of her home.

Like the two cars it squeezed between — a gray Prius and a beat-up Honda — it had a Loyola Marymount University decal on its windshield.

Rittenour pursed her lips as she walked past the cars.

"They say it's a public street," Rittenour said, scoffingly. "If every day it's like this, it's really just an LMU parking lot."

For Rittenour and others whose homes border the edge of the university campus, competing with students for parking leads to frequent frustrations — ones they fear will get worse when the school starts charging for on-campus parking in January.

Local residents have had to get creative to find solutions. One woman put out a row of trash cans strung together with red ribbon to save spots for a dinner party. Others put bricks in the road.

Several neighbors gathered with a panel of LMU employees at the Westchester Senior Center on a recent evening to discuss some of the issues causing tension between the school and the neighborhood. The biggies: loud parties and street parking.

Clarence Griffin, director of LMU's community and government relations, nodded and jotted notes as neighbors made complaints. Though the university is bound by its 20-year master plan, officials are open to ideas from the community.

During the meeting, for example, one resident suggested that the school block off some entrances so students can't get to campus as quickly from the neighborhood. She asked Griffin if he would pass along her idea. He nodded. "I think that's definitely something that would be worthy of conversation," he said.

The school's master plan — a slew of modernization and renovation projects approved unanimously by the Los Angeles City Council in February 2011 — didn't increase the campus-enrollment cap of 7,800 students or its acreage. It did, however, approve more on-campus parking.

Neighbors welcome the prospect of added parking spots, but not the plan to charge for them. Students will pay $670 a year; staff, $696.

The school hopes the fees will add an incentive for the students, faculty and staff who live nearby to walk, ride a bike or take public transportation. LMU plans to expand its shuttle options and create a carpool website, which will help people find other commuters within their ZIP code.

Rio Gomez, a 21-year-old liberal studies junior who lives a 10-minute drive from campus, said that once LMU starts charging he'll probably do the same thing he does now: park off campus.

On a recent afternoon, he parked just south of campus along Loyola Boulevard and rushed to the library to print a paper for his educational psychology class.

His habit of parking on nearby streets started after one too many mornings of waiting in a long line of cars looking for campus parking.

"I'm a procrastinator," Gomez said through a smile. "I'm usually late to class, so I rush, park in a residential area and go to class."

One possible solution for keeping students off the streets is to create a permit-parking district.

Residents could get up to three annual passes for $34 each, two $22.50 visitor passes that would last four months and day passes that cost $2.50.

LMU officials are taking no position on the permit parking. If the neighbors want it, though, the school's master plan set aside $24,000 a year to help pay for residents' parking permits.

Linda Kokelaar, who lives just east of campus, vehemently opposes permit parking because she doubts the school's subsidy will cover everyone's fees.

"Why should we have that burden?" Kokelaar said. "That's not fair."

Kokelaar started a petition — "Permit Parking is NOT the Solution" — and enlisted the help of her 93-year-old neighbor Mary Rennells.

Rennells and her late husband moved into the Westchester neighborhood east of campus in 1949 and she doesn't like to see it change. So this summer, she canvassed the streets and collected signatures.

"I walked, and it's not easy to walk," Rennells said. "But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everyone signed. I quit counting after 100."

On a recent afternoon, as she picked tulips from her small garden, a black Volvo zoomed up. A baby-faced boy clutching a stack of books hopped out. He is one of the crew of LMU students who live next door.

He saw Rennells and a smile spread across his face. He waved and said hi.

Rennells' eyes lit up and she waved back.

"They're really, really high-class boys," Rennells said. "They're really sweet to me."


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School district performs drug tests at parents' request

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 25 November 2012 | 12.56

Elaine Bogart had no second thoughts about subjecting her children to drug tests.

When the Santa Clarita mother learned of a program through her school district that allows parents to track the results of random tests of their children's urine, she enrolled her two teenagers right away.

"It was my decision," she said. "They do have some rights, but I'm responsible for them. I need to make sure they're safe."

The William S. Hart Union High School District program is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, according to program administrators. While school drug testing as a condition for participation in such activities as sports is not unusual, Hart's program has the distinction of exclusively serving parents who want to monitor their offspring — whether said offspring like it or not.

The district is seeking to expand the unusual program and has set a goal of having hundreds more students sign up in coming years. The students are given no choice: If their parents enroll them in the Comprehensive Alcohol and Drug Reduction and Education, or CADRE, program, they must submit to urine tests. If they skip a test, parents are notified by program administrators.

More than 2,000 Santa Clarita students participate in the free program about one-tenth of the district's 23,000 junior high and high school students. "We would love to have it grow every year by 3%," said Kathy Hunter, Hart's director of student services.

Civil rights advocates are dubious.

Though not familiar with the program, Michael Risher, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, questioned its capacity to be "truly voluntary and truly informed."

In September, the ACLU of Northern California won a lawsuit against the Shasta Union High School District over the district's policy of drug-testing students who participate in a variety of school-related activities without any suspicion of drug use.

Risher said parents do have the right to enroll their children in a drug-testing program. But children in California also have privacy rights, he said. And if a student refused to be drug-tested, despite parental consent, the school district might be leaving itself open to a legal challenge, he said.

Hart school officials said CADRE had been thoroughly vetted by the district's attorneys.

Support for the program has grown in recent years, mirroring what Santa Clarita city and law enforcement officials contend is a rise in drug use in the predominantly middle-class bedroom community.

In 2011, there were nine heroin-related deaths in the Santa Clarita Valley. So far this year, that number has at least doubled, according to law enforcement statistics. Several young adults, some of whom are believed to have gotten hooked while still in school, have been among the casualties, authorities said.

"We're still in an uphill battle at the enforcement end," Lt. Robert Lewis, deputy in charge of the prevention unit at the Santa Clarita Valley sheriff's station, said in an interview over the summer. "Heroin is still a problem we're trying to get a grip on in the Santa Clarita Valley."

The CADRE program was launched in 2008 after some parents requested that the school district institute mandatory drug-testing for students wanting to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities. Other parents objected, and the school board rejected the proposal. But members wanted to offer parents something, Hunter said. CADRE was that something.

Urine samples are collected from random students in the program at various schools every month, according to officials at Medtox Scientific Inc., the nationwide certified drug-testing company that analyzes the samples. The students are not observed in the restroom, and the collectors are the same gender as the students being tested, said Andrew Gilberts, a Medtox school-testing coordinator.

Test results are sent to another lab for confirmation, Gilberts said. Parents are notified of their children's results by phone to ensure they get the message. Those whose children test positive are referred to a licensed therapist and offered other assistance. School officials are not told of individual students' test results.

Sixty-three of the 1,952 students who were enrolled in CADRE during the previous school year tested positive, Hunter said. The most common drug detected was marijuana, but heroin, methamphetamine and more recently such new drugs as bath salts have also been detected, Hunter said. So far this year, there have been 35 positive test results.

Supporters say CADRE empowers students by giving them a convenient excuse to say no to illegal drugs and alcohol. They can use the justification that "it's not them ... it's their crazy mom," Bogart said.

It also gives parents an easier way to monitor their children without appearing to be "the bad guy" because they aren't the ones administering the tests, Gilberts said.

The original $216,000 federal grant that funded CADRE expired in June 2011, but there's enough money left for the program to continue for now. The school district plans to explore options for financial support, such as corporate sponsorship, Hunter said.

That's good news for Bogart, the mother of two. "I think it's great," she said. "I would have paid for it if I had to pay."


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Democrats' new power in Legislature could bring peril too

SACRAMENTO — Having won a coveted two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature for the first time in more than a century, California Democrats now face the temptations of one-party government — and the perils that come with it.

The party's liberal allies are urging legislative leaders to aggressively exercise their newfound powers, allowing them to sidestep Republicans on tax votes and in placing measures on the statewide ballot.

Among the proposals are new levies on oil companies, overturning the state's ban on same-sex marriage and overhauling Proposition 13, the landmark property-tax initiative.

"This is a huge opportunity," said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. "We shouldn't be timid about our political agenda."

Political experts, however, said that Democrats could risk a backlash if they overreach, particularly on fiscal matters.

Party leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded Californians to approve billions of dollars in new taxes on the November ballot — the first statewide tax increase since 2004 — by arguing that the new money would put the state's finances back on track.

"When Santa brings you everything you want for Christmas, to start making your wish list for next year on Dec. 26 looks bad," said Thad Kousser, a UC San Diego political scientist.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) tested that theory this month when he floated legislation to place a measure on the 2014 ballot to triple the state's vehicle license fee.

The lawmaker said his proposal, which would have raised money for roads and public transit projects, prompted hundreds of negative comments from constituents — and an admonishment from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Now chastened, Lieu said Democrats should restrain themselves.

"It's clear to me that we need to demonstrate that we can responsibly work with this revenue and not go right back to the voters and ask for more," he said.

Democratic leaders are emphasizing restraint, with an eye toward maintaining their tenuous supermajorities. Voters will weigh in on the party's new dominance as early as next year, when two state senators leave the Legislature for Congress and Assembly members run for their seats.

How party leaders use their new powers could affect the outcome of those special elections — as well as the future prospects of centrist Democrats who eked out unexpected victories in Republican-rich areas of the Central Valley and Southern California.

When Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez (D-Los Angeles) was asked what he intended to do with his caucus' new power, he responded with one word: Nothing.

Steinberg, his Senate counterpart, has been more forthcoming, suggesting lawmakers pursue changes to the state's tax structure and restore money to social services. He said he also wanted to tweak the initiative process by setting expiration dates for ballot measures and requiring proponents to negotiate with the Legislature to refine their proposals.

"We have a responsibility to move the state forward," Steinberg said. "I promise that we will exercise this new power with strength but also with humility and with reason."

Any pursuit of taxes would set up a showdown with Brown, who has pledged not to raise levies without voter approval. Although Democrats now possess the power to override the governor's vetoes, such moves are extremely rare and risk undermining the leader of their own party.

Liberals, however, sense a mandate in the November election results.

They cited record turnout among Latino, Asian and African American voters, who supported Brown's tax-hike measure, Proposition 30, in large numbers, according to exit poll data. Those voters also said by a 2-1 margin that they believed government should be doing more to solve the nation's problems.

Labor leaders were heartened by voter approval of a separate ballot measure that eliminated a controversial corporate tax break and diverted the money to help balance the budget and pay for a new green-energy program.

They said they wanted lawmakers to reevaluate similar business breaks in hopes of freeing up revenue for infrastructure projects.

Activists also suggested they would pursue another longtime goal: a single-payer healthcare system.

"For the very first time in decades we have an opportunity to reshape California," said Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, a liberal advocacy group that pushed the governor to focus his November tax measure on the wealthy. "Some of us may want to take more risks than others."


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Long Beach group helps disadvantaged teens aim for college

Charlene Chhom, 14, has never had her own room. She, five siblings, her mother and grandmother share a cramped four-bedroom house in the heart of the Cambodia Town neighborhood in Long Beach.

It can be hard for her to focus sometimes in the full house, so she studies at a Starbucks or locks herself in the room she shares with her sister.

"When we talk, it's like everybody talking," she says, her blue-shellacked fingernails tapping on the family's small kitchen table. "When I'm with my mentor, it's just me and her."

Charlene and her two younger brothers are among the 113 Long Beach students who participate in programs at Operation Jump Start, a local nonprofit that helps disadvantaged and low-income youths aim for college. The organization pairs each student, most in grades eight through 12, with a college graduate who can work with them for up to five years, escorting them to campus tours and volunteer activities.

"She's like the oldest of all my siblings," Charlene said of her mentor, Renee Van Winkle, 30, who gives her school advice and tips on her least favorite subject — geometry.

Operation Jump Start also provides tutoring and information sessions on picking high school classes and college requirements, and it gives incentives for high grade-point averages.

Before joining last year, Charlene thought she might go to community college or nearby Cal State Long Beach. But after a weeklong "camp-out" in UC Irvine's dorms this spring, part of a joint program with the center, Charlene says she hopes to apply there too.

Her sister Linda was the first in her family to "go dorming" at a four-year college, as Charlene puts it, and encouraged her younger siblings to join the mentoring program. The family took up an entire table last year when they watched Linda graduate from Operation Jump Start. Charlene says she was "really proud" of her sister, but also encouraged. "If she can pass OJS, then we can all pass OJS, and we can all go to college and make it," she said.

Executive Director Jill Jones calls the nonprofit's graduation ceremony, which participants from all grade levels attend, one of the most important events of the year. "They all get a sense that they're going to be there too," she said.

Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, nearly $450,000 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.

The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, are at risk of illiteracy or have limited English proficiency.

Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.


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L.A.'s revamped teacher evaluation system getting mixed grades

Third-grade teacher Kelly Vallianos wanted to find an engaging way for her students to learn about measuring perimeters. One idea — to have students design a restaurant floor plan — was too difficult, she feared.

But with the help of colleagues, she found a way to tailor that fifth-grade idea to her younger students at Dominguez Elementary School, who excitedly sketched out an imaginary pizzeria.

Vallianos credits the Los Angeles Unified School District's new teacher evaluation system for sparking deeper and more collaborative conversations with administrators, who she said gave her ideas to make the lesson work.

The district's new performance reviews have come under fire by United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposes the controversial element of using student test scores as one factor in measuring teacher effectiveness.

But largely lost in the debate is the fact that the system's centerpiece is a new classroom observation process that, despite some drawbacks, is being praised by many as a better way to help teachers improve.

"It's a more reflective, much more well-rounded process," said Vallianos, who has been teaching for 19 years.

Teachers are ranked on a scale on instruction, lesson plans, classroom environment and dozens of other criteria. A highly effective teacher, for instance, will be able to intellectually engage all students and prompt them to lead their own discussion topics. An ineffective teacher will generate all questions and most answers, involving just a handful of students.

During observations, administrators type notes into their laptops and later rate each of 61 skills. Principals and other administrators conducting the observations must pass a test to ensure they are fairly and accurately scoring instructors. Conferences with teachers before and after the classroom visits are required.

The method is meant to make observations more useful, uniform and objective, using evidence rather than opinions. But it's an elaborate process and has provoked widespread criticism that it takes too long for principals who are already overwhelmed with increasing workloads. And those who can't type well take even longer, administrators say.

"The technology is creating great difficulty and frustration," said Judith Perez, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles. "It feels like an immense amount of pressure on people without alleviating their workload."

Teachers union President Warren Fletcher agrees that a better system is needed; UTLA has designed its own. He said "the jury is still out" on the district's observation process but added that it shares some common elements with the union's proposal.

The new system also includes evidence of student achievement — which could be in the form of test scores — feedback from students and parents, and the teacher's contributions to the school community.

The new observations were tested last year on a voluntary basis with about 450 teachers and 320 administrators; this year, every principal and one volunteer teacher at each of the district's 1,200 schools are expected to be trained.

Officials have not yet announced when the system will be used for every teacher — or when the ratings will begin to count for decisions on layoffs, tenure or pay. But in a video shown at the training sessions, L.A. Supt. John Deasy made the stakes clear.

"We have perhaps no greater responsibility than assuring that every student in this district is taught by an effective teacher in a school led by an effective leader," he said.

Many educators agree that the current evaluation system — known as Stull for the state law that created it — doesn't promote that goal of top-notch teachers for every student. Criticized as a perfunctory checklist of expectations that doesn't help teachers improve, the system awarded 99.3% of L.A. Unified teachers the highest rating in 2009-10 — even though only 45% of district students that year performed at grade level for reading and 56% were proficient in math.

The new system has given teachers like Lisa Thorne a boost. Thorne, a math teacher at Hamilton High School, said the new process is "unwieldy" but far more helpful in homing in on her strengths and weaknesses.

After the self-evaluation part of the process, Thorne chose to focus on improving her work with small groups of students, prompting her to try such techniques as using a three-dimensional pegboard to teach geometry. And she started a new computer-based class to help struggling ninth-graders master algebra. Administrators had seen her use the techniques with older students during a class visit and were impressed enough to give her the green light, she said.

"I would definitely say the new system is an improvement, because it's more specific about what they're looking for," Thorne said. "It helps to get the conversation going with administrators."

Eduardo Solorzano, principal of San Fernando Middle School, agrees. In particular, he said, the focus on careful note-taking has given him specific examples to use in helping teachers improve.

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