Friday, June 17, 2011

Harbor Area LAPD Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino flanked by police advisory board members,  Christopher Fukatake, 17, at left, Kavita Desai, right and Emmanuel Jimenez, 17, several at a recent teen conference.


Doing the hard right instead of the easy wrong,” motto of the LAPD Teen CPAB.

By Diana L. Chapman

Six years ago, Los Angeles Senior Lead Police Officer Joe Buscaino landed squarely in the heart of two major San Pedro schools where problems abounded.

Fights took place outside Dana Middle and San Pedro High schools frequently. The students flooded the streets when both schools got out at the same time. Drugs were a constant and Buscaino felt somewhat overwhelmed. Then it hit him.

“We just weren’t connecting with teenagers in terms of problem solving,” Buscaino said, who lives in San Pedro with his wife, Geralyn, and two children. “What was a better way than to bring them to the table? It was ultimately the idea to give them access to the police department.

“Often we were just turning a deaf ear to what kids had to say.”

That’s when Buscaino pushed for and received permission to form  the Teen Community Police Advisory Board in the Harbor Area. The goal: to establish LAPD relations with teenagers, get them to know and trust police officers and to work with them toward the betterment of the community. The program has been so successful --with youth crime taking such a dip -- that the top brass soon noticed.
Now, Police Chief Charlie Beck ordered that all 21 LAPD areas host teen police advisory boards by the end of July.

“Through the vision and leadership of Joe Buscaino, the Teen CPAB has been very successful,” explained Patrick Gannon, a deputy chief. “Joe brought together a core group of teenagers who were dedicated at addressing serious community issues such as graffiti and bullying in our schools and neighborhood. The insight and the effort that these young people brought to these issues has been tremendous.

“Community policing is all about partnerships and problem solving. Increasing our partnerships with teenagers and then using them to solve problems of mutual concern is a valuable asset as we continue to try and improve public safety.”

Since it originated, youth crime slumped across the Harbor Area. Teen members encourage and help other students to stay away from drugs or other criminal activities. And  teen board members conduct public awareness messages – such as anti-bullying videos that will play in the fall at San Pedro High. The bottom line, Buscaino said, is an all out effort to build  associations between students and police. The young members also mentor students who are faced with troubles and don’t know where to go, said Kavita Desai, the current teen board’s co-president. The board has 38 members.

“We mentor students one on one,” said 17-year-old Kavita, whose friend, Andrew Andrade, also 17 is a member. “Being teenagers at school, we know who is under a bad influence. Students don’t want to go to adult. They can talk to us and it’s confidential. We basically try to stop them before they do something they regret.”

Since Buscaino’s brainstorm, the teen board has helped influence relationships between hundreds of students and officers for the better and statistics seem to prove that the program – made up of students from the Wilmington, San Pedro, Harbor Gateway and Harbor City – have possibly aided in a large dip in teen crime.

 For instance, five youth committed homicides in 2006 versus  none in 2010. In the same time frame, aggravated assaults dropped by nearly half, 97 to 45; robbery 105 to 65; grand theft auto dipped 19 to eight, according to LAPD statistics. Burglary, theft  and rape numbers stayed about the same, however.

The teen CPAB meets monthly at Boys and Girls Club sites to problem solve, work on issues that are becoming trendy, such as tagging, and to give teens “a voice.” It also heads yearly teen conferences in the spring where about 200 youth from all over Los Angeles gather to give them a voice to law enforcement.

While the program has built quite a bit of steam, in the beginning, Buscaino said students were wary and unsure if they even wanted to join.

“They were very hesitant and distrusting, and rightfully so,” the senior lead said. “What I gained was they never had an opportunity to establish a relationship with the police. They were timid and shy and it was hard to break that.”

But break it he did and the wall came crashing down between some officers and youth, some of whom nicknamed  Buscaino “Papa Joe” and said their lives changed for the better.

Gabe Maldanado, who joined as the executive secretary at the age of 16, touts the board left him with the sense that he could accomplish most anything and “puts a face” on police officers. Buscaino, he said, attacked the trouble “from the root” and was “clever” in that he handed over the reins to the students to let them lead the advisory board. He witnessed students involved in the program quit ditching classes and improved their grades. He applauds  LAPD’s decision to expand it across the city.

“Teen CPAB taught me to dream bigger every day,” said Maldanado, a 21-year-old graduate from UC Riverside who is now a marketing coordinator. “We went to Sacramento to speak to state legislators. We had teen conferences. It taught me I could do practically anything. I put myself through college. I just got back from Europe. It really changed the way we thought and we were inspired that we could do something for our community.”

Maldando also established a non-profit  TruEvolutions, dedicated to help develop youth in academic, artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors. All this, he said, came from his time with CPAB.

Another former board member, Isaiah Alexander, 21, who attends California State University, Sacramento said he’s ecstatic that the LAPD had the vision to expand on such success. Many students, he said, “feel like no one cares about them.” Those involved will change dramatically, as he did, for the better.

Alexander’s family had many gang ties in Long Beach. When he moved to San Pedro, it helped him cleanse away those ties, but serving on the board allowed him to grow and flourish and understand his capabilities.

“We have a lot of students who don’t like police,” Alexander said. “This (expansion) will define and change behaviors. There will be more trust and rapport and less stereotypes. It gave me a different image of police. I saw their human side.

“It gave me the chance to really work with officers and delegates. I had a chance to express myself and go to the capitol. We really took pride in what we did.”

Buscaino believes part of his success was that he was there to listen to the students and he gave them the freedom to run the board. For instance, he said, the teens decide on the topics to discuss at the meetings. Those involved tip Busacaino off to specific problems taking place in schools, which in turn, will be shared with school police and administrators. That can include anything from traffic and gang problems to narcotic issues.

Many issues involving after school problems at Dana and San Pedro were resolved with the use of the teen board along with help from the Safety Collaborative, a board of school officials, police and non-profits in charge of children’s welfare.

Although Buscaino is pleased with his work, he’s proudest of his youth’s work to pull together teen conferences each year which links hundreds of children with officers, including the top brass. The recent conference focused on bullying.

From that April conference teen Angelica Arreola wrote: “When someone asks me what did I learn from this day, I would say, it’s a day never to forget, a bunch of faces I will always remember. The different stories I heard really touched my heart because to know there are people out there going through what I went through makes me feel a bit less lonely. Bullying is one of the worst things to go through…

“Bullies, all they do is feed from our weakness and we should never give them that power. I also believe we are put in this world to make a difference. I want to make a difference in this world, and show kids out there that they are not alone.”

The Teen CPAB seems to have done just that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Derek Esquibel, 17, goes to battle in his fight against Crohn's, this Father's Day.


By Diana L. Chapman

For the second year in a row, San Pedro High Student Derek Esquibel – who battles with Crohn’s  -- will host a fundraiser at the K1 Speed racetrack this Father’s Day weekend in his “race against Cohn’s.”

Derek, 17, an auto racing enthusiast, decided to combine his love for racing with his drive to prevent Crohn’s disease – an illness no child should suffer from, he said. He’s gearing up this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday,  to bring funds to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America through the electric go-carts racetrack.

Fliers will be passed out in front of K-1 in Torrance. For each $20 race purchased, K1 will donate $5 to the foundation.

Since a severe episode in 2009, which dramatically threatened his health and kept him hospitalized for a month, Derek  told his parents that he wanted to shift gears and drive out Crohn’s. It lead him to do several fundraisers in which he’s garnered more than $4,000.

He also talks publicly about his less-than-glamorous illness, which inflames the bowels. In Derek’s case, it impacts both his small and large intestine, which has led to severe weight loss. Stress makes the disease worse and it can be life-threatening.

“It’s horrible to the immune system,” Derek told a group of students at the San Pedro High School Community Outreach Club. “Stress is a big part of it and racing helps me relieve my stress.”

At first, Derek said he was  skeptical about having his fundraiser on Father’s Day, but realized “it could be a great way to celebrate.”

Last week, a San Pedro McDonald’s donated cookies for the student to sell at school. He raised an additional $250.

To become part of this, donations will be accepted at K1 or online at: Race times are 11 a.m. to 11 on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 on Sunday.

K1 is located at 19038 S. Vermont Avenue in Torrance.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s Big, Bad—and Irritating—Campaign Against Republican Craig Huey for Congress

By Diana L. Chapman

I open my mail and find a campaign brochure with headlines that scream:

“Huey Wants to Put Doctors in Jail”

“Huey Called Planned Parenthood a “‘Murder Mill’”

“Huey Opposes Separation of Church and State”

It’s an ugly Saturday morning, gray with a chill in the air, as I stare at the brochure.  Couldn’t Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, a Democrat, come up with something a bit smarter in her attacks against Craig Huey?

Huey, a Republican, shocked everyone as he came out of nowhere in the May primary election for the 36th congressional district and edged Secretary of State Debra Bowen for second place. He now vies against Hahn in a runoff.

This upcoming special election on July 12 has me in a quandary. I’m a Democrat, but I can’t bring myself to vote for Hahn, our Los Angeles councilwoman, because  I know all that she has not done for our community.

After Hahn’s more than a decade on the City Council, Los Angeles continues to struggle with financial issues and a pile of other nasty problems while she fiddles with issues such as the Arizona boycott because of the Grand Canyon state’s stance on immigration. But what disturbs me the most are all the things Hahn could have done in her own backyard.

Hahn has done so little about serious issues that it’s hampered growth in our area. Yet she deplores Huey in her campaign for his anti-abortion stance and claims he’s too much like Sarah Palin.

That must mean she can’t dig up better, more worthwhile issues.

As I’ve watched our community deteriorate under Hahn’s watch, I can’t imagine what she could do for us in Congress–if anything.  You get what you vote for.  

I won’t list everything she hasn’t done, having written about it many times already. But two issues cropped up recently that Janice just seems to have botched.

Recently, I wrote a story about the proposed Taco Bell expansion on 11th and Gaffey streets in San Pedro, where the food chain wants to double its size, remove half the parking and eliminate one of the entrances from Gaffey Street. Somehow, the views of residents living nearby were bypassed in the process, and they are upset, as they should be.

Hahn’s office, however, is totally supportive of the expansion. She hasn’t suggested any conditions that could be placed on the project to address residents’ concerns while still making it work.

Residents were given only two weeks’ notice before the issue moved to the Planning Commission in downtown Los Angeles. Yet they have been complaining for nearly 20 years about the eatery attracting a bad clientele with fights, drug deals and other gang clashes.

The residents’ complaints went unheeded – and now that there’s an opportunity to place conditions on the project, where is Hahn? I’ve talked directly with residents and I don’t see her.

The same is true for downtown San Pedro, which has been economically depressed for years. Scores of businesses have closed, many due to parking problems. Two years ago, Hahn supported a quadrupling of parking rates, which nearly killed what business remained.

It was one reason that Susan McKenna, a community-oriented businesswoman, closed the doors last month at Nosh– a restaurant that was well regarded for its scrumptious food and delectable lattes. But struggling to find a parking space was like a mad hornet buzzing around your head.

Due to scores of complaints, Janice finally woke up and called for eliminating the parking meters in downtown San Pedro and Wilmington.

It’s much too little, too late.

I admit I don’t know Huey.  I’ve heard he’s a small business owner who made it on his own, spent $500,000 of his own cash in the primary and is a member of Rolling Hills Covenant Church. But I do know Janice. I was disgusted by her obnoxious campaigning--first against Bowen and now against Huey, where she claims he calls his enemies “the forces of Satan” and calls him a “fanatic.”

Really, Janice? Please give us something worthwhile rather than ridiculous generalizations. Give us some substance.

I’m afraid I will find myself sitting at home this election day, something I haven’t done since college. I don’t  want to vote for a candidate I don’t know at all. And I don’t want to vote for someone I know all too well.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Leslie Jones, who owns the Omelette and Waffle shop with Mona Sutton, says she's alarmed by the potential expansion of Taco Bell -- without many conditions.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who endorses the project and is in the middle of the 36th District Congressional race, offers residents little help so far

By Diana L. Chapman

It seems like a betrayal of sorts.

Somehow, don’t ask me how, a proposal to double the size of a Taco Bell on Gaffey Street quietly slipped through the Community Redevelopment Agency in San Pedro and moved its way to planning in downtown Los Angeles – before any nearby residents, who’ve complained about the eatery for years, even heard the news.

The next thing neighbors knew:  they had two weeks notice to gear up, set off the alarm bells and to drive downtown Los Angeles to fight the project  on 11th and Gaffey streets. For years-- in fact as far back as I can remember-- neighbors have complained historically and repeatedly about the eatery. They call it a haven for loud teens and adults where frequent fights occur along with crime, piles of trash, occasional gang skirmishes – and a place that offers no security to deal with the mayhem.

“The reality of Taco Bell for one is the patrons,” complained Mike Boke, one of the neighbors at a meeting on Monday night. “They’re a beacon of crime for our neighborhood. They urinate everywhere. We find patrons pissing in the alley.

“It’s like a bad bar. We are completely off their radar.”

Besides wanting to double the eatery’s size, Taco Bell officials want to cut the parking nearly in half, stay open until 4 a.m. in the summers and remove one currently existing access route off Gaffey – leaving only two ways out of the parking lot – Gaffey and the alleyway.

Frustrated residents fumed with anger at a Monday meeting at the Omelette and Waffle Shop and really can you blame them? They complained to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s staff, Gordon Teuber, the economic development director, that their numerous woes have gone unheeded.

Neighbors added that they deal with copious trash, drug deals, defecation, loud music and the arrival of delivery trucks at 4 a.m, waking up neighbors. Despite repeated complaints to the restaurant, they said, and many to the council office little if nothing, has changed. It’s been an unsatisfactory way of life for more than twenty years, they add.

“We’ve put up with them for decades and decades and it’s gotten really bad,” said resident Sal DiConstanzo, who’s been leading the resident’s cause and said he’s complained to Hahn’s office. “We confront (Taco Bell). They behave better for awhile and then they just go back to where they were.”

City officials say Hahn’s office encouraged the new building because it was better than the “status quo” and an improvement for San Pedro overall since it will be a brand new facility.

 But I find it peculiar and extremely perplexing that no one warned residents early on. Megan Hunter, a city planner with the Community Redevelopment Agency, said at the meeting that the agency didn’t have enough money to warn residents to send out notices. She asked Taco Bell to do the duty.

She didn’t know, she added, that eatery had not done so.

 “It just shows how much the city is disconnected,” said Leslie Jones who owns the Omelette and Waffle Shop with Mona Sutton across the street from Taco Bell, both of whom spend time picking up trash from the facility. “They are just making it more and more difficult. I feel it’s a betrayal, us not being told and we are neighbors.”

Despite that, Mona Sutton said both her and her partner support the remodel, but without conditions, will  lean toward helping their long time neighbors.

"I'm very excited that the Taco Bell will spend it's million for a new store in our community," Sutton explained. "However, with that said, if we small business owners were remodeling, we'd be held to the fire if the community had complaints. Also, we being the community supporters that we are,  would never not consider the greater good. Taco Bell should be a good community partner and should be held to a high standard to prove it."

Taco Bell, however, believes it has worked closely with both neighbors and city officials.

"To better serve both our customers and the community, we have been working closely with San Pedro city officials, local residents, and businesses on the plans to redevelop the Taco Bell restaurant on Gaffey Street,” said Rob Poetsch, an official spokesman for the restaurant chain. “The renovation, which is supported by city officials will improve traffic flow, discourage loitering, and bring in several hundred thousand dollars in construction jobs and new jobs to the local economy.

“It is our hope that by investing in the community, other businesses will be encouraged to do the same."

If the current plans are approved, the facility will be torn down and expanded to more than double its size – from 627 square feet to 1,474 – and most of the seating – possibly  due the residents’ complaints– will be inside. Parking spaces will drop from 17 to 10, so Taco Bell is asking for a variance. City officials said its likely Taco Bell will not be allowed to stay open until 4 a.m.

Neighbors still have deep fears creeping in – especially what will happen in the alley.

They fear – and rightly so – that cars will start to stack along the alleyway and back up drivers along  both 10th and 11th streets – not to mention Gaffey.

What surprises me the most is that the councilwoman  – who is running for the 36th Congressional District against Craig Huey in July and is in her third term in the council office  – didn’t take this long list of complaints early on – or frankly long before that -- and use the project to the city’s advantage – before it even got to the Los Angeles zoning offices. This is the time Hahn’s office could minimize most complaints since the project needs a Conditional Use Permit.

“It is a golden opportunity,” said Dione Liu, chief-of-staff for Hahn’s office, who added he wasn’t aware of any complaints coming into Hahn’s office prior to the project about Taco Bell.  “Generally speaking, it’s an opportunity for us to put in stricter conditions. I think obviously this is something we will have to do.”

Since I live in San Pedro, and to me what hampers the lifestyle of one set of residents can trickle down to the rest of us, I’m encouraging the neighbors to come together and demand at least the following just to make the area more livable, besides having no outdoor seating, ask for:

·        A full time security guard all hours that the eatery is open.
·        Security cameras that are running 24 hours a day and are fed publicly for anyone to access
·        Taco Bell to close at midnight; open at 9 a.m.
·        Maintain the two entrances and exits along Gaffey as it is now – to keep the alley from being disastrously clogged
·        In a long grassy area planned for the front of the eatery that fronts Gaffey, plant cactus and other drought succulent plants so the vegetation doesn’t die (as the grass there is dead now) and it doesn’t become a seating area for teens
·        Help provide and seek a long, sought after signal for 11th and Gaffey where many of the youth cross a dangerously busy street with cars speeding faster than 40 mph.
·        Besides offering a six foot wall between the alley and the residents, use vegetation to help buffer the noise 
·        Ask for Taco Bell to do a traffic study 
·        Make sure the bathrooms are always open to patrons, even if only the drive-through is open.
·        Display signs that surveillance is ongoing and to ask  patrons to turn down radios and keep voices low as not to impact neighbors
·        Clean up graffiti quickly and clean sidewalks of gum and other muck