Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Newly elected Councilman Joe Buscaino with his wife, Geralyn, and children, Gia, 5, and Mateo, 9.
Councilman Joe Buscaino Swinging Into Action and Hitting Heavy Early
By Diana L. Chapman
I like it. I like it. I like it.
That’s how I feel so far about our new councilman and former senior lead Los Angeles Police Officer Joe Buscaino, also known around Los Angeles City Hall as “Bustea,” “Buscanacho,” “Busti,” “Bustia,” “Busty,” “Buzarella,” some of the many names Los Angeles council members teasingly came up with while trying to say his name on a welcome video.
So far, the 37-year-old councilman – who has sat on the council less than a month after a victorious ride to fill former Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s shoes– has hit all the right key notes.
He’s jumped on the gone-wild skateboarding practices, showed up when two teenagers were horrifically shot this week in Wilmington and picked the Warner Grand -- a historic theater well-known to locals by the many struggles to save it– to hold his public swearing in ceremony even though he’d already had an official swearing in downtown.
“Who’s idea was that?” I asked his chief-of-staff, Doane Liu of the Warner event.
“It was Joe’s,” Liu said.
It’s called shoring up a rather pale community pride that had grown even paler in recent years.
Packed with about 1,000 residents at the swearing in, Buscaino took all the joking in stride, surrounded by his wife and children, thanked city officials for “butchering my name,” and told the public: “It’s been an amazing journey and a journey we will travel together. It’s because of you that I am here today.”
He added that he plans to partner with Council District 15 communities –Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, San Pedro and Watts—to bring about safer streets, build “a dynamic” waterfront and invigorate the region to become a city gem.
At a ceremony peppered with bouts of humor, LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, the emcee, told how he spotted Buscaino working with children as an assistant park director and was impressed. He encouraged the young man to become an officer and then mentored him after he joined the force.
 “For years, I got to be his boss,” Gannon said. “That’s all changed. He’s been in office for three days and he already calls me to get more officers in the Harbor Area. What are you going to do?”
Buscaino, Gannon said, received his request since he’s now the boss.
While many speakers came on stage, one who stood out was Isaiah Alexander, who as a youth,  worked with Buscaino to form the city’s first teen community police advisory board in the Harbor Area – which met with such success the LAPD adopted it in all 21 of its regions.
Now 22, the college student said his life improved dramatically with Buscaino’s friendship. He calls him: “Papa Joe.”
“He was with me at all my high school (events), ” Alexander told the crowd. “He was with me when I met my father (for the first time.) He helped me put my first car on the road. The councilman you chose is a caring man and he is loyal.”
Why do I like Buscaino so far? He feels our heartbeat.
He’s showing us true leadership, starting with the skateboarders who are “bombing” the hillsides of San Pedro – racing down them, clocking 40 mph and ignoring lights and stop signs. One 15-year-old skateboarder was killed.
“What are we going to do about the skateboarders?” one lady moaned when we were talking one morning. I didn’t have a clue, but Buscaino did.
He introduced a motion in early February to ask the City Attorney to draw up an ordinance to control unsafe skateboarding – and force them to abide the same laws cyclists and cars follow – meaning stopping at red lights and stop signs.
Not too long after, a horrific event drew the councilman to Wilmington Feb. 26, a Sunday night.
One day after the councilman’s San Pedro ceremony –which followed with a festive block party on Sixth Street --  a gunman shot to death a teen couple walking home in Wilmington at night – making them the sixth and seventh homicide in that community since 2012.
Killed were Carolina Ramirez, 15, a Banning High student, and her 16-year-old boyfriend, Meldrick Melgoza Alvarez.
I was glad to see Buscaino was there, trying to reassure residents and to  offer up a plan – to form a group called Wilmington United to help citizens work more closely with police. It’s first meeting Tuesday brought together police, church and school officials, the councilman’s office, residents and the many non-profits working with children or running gang prevention programs.
“No neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles should experience the horror of having anyone, especially teenagers, gunned down in its streets,” Buscaino said. “I want this task force organized to share valuable information with the LAPD and help deliver desperately needed resources to Wilmington.”
Already, we are breathing in the fresh air Buscaino brings to the low morale of the Harbor Area and Watts. It’s more than refreshing. It’s a burst of light.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

LAUSD Board Member Richard Vladovic tours new campus to open this summer.

This Summer, 500 Lucky Students Will Land at San Pedro High School’s State-of –the- Art Annex Overlooking the Pacific Ocean
By Diana L. Chapman
Coming this August, 500 students will unload from buses that come off Gaffey Street to attend a controversial, but ecologically modernized campus – promising soon to become one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s brightest stars.
Surrounded by educational facilities – such as the Marine Mammal Care Center – the new $80 million campus opens its doors Aug. 14 and will welcome students from San Pedro High’s Marine and Police Academy magnets.
A lottery will be held for an additional 50 seats for San Pedro high school residents at facility, now called the John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus. They too will be enrolled in one of the smaller learning communities.
The campus,  perched atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific,  will also fall under the jurisdiction of San Pedro High and its principal, Jeanette Stevens.
On a recent tour, LAUSD School Board Member Richard Vladovic, who oversees the Harbor Area, was delighted by the school which sits on 28 acres of land on the Upper Reservation of Fort MacArthur.
“I am impressed,” said Vladovic, whose staff dealt with irritated neighbors who contended the school would cause severe traffic clogging and change the area’s serenity. “This school will facilitate teaching and capture children’s imaginations.
“This will be a classic and San Pedro High will be a classic campus too.”
Stevens, who attended the same tour, said she’s mesmerized by the new high school that was intended to reduce the overcrowded student population at the main school.
“It’s amazing. It’s fabulous,” said a pleased principal Stevens. “It’s a prize for San Pedro. It’s going to elevate our enthusiasm for San Pedro High School. We are going to be rejuvenated by this.
“Our neighbor’s will be proud of their backyard.”
There is much to be proud of. The campus includes eight new buildings and is graced with 30 new classrooms, a competitive swimming pool, a sparkling, fresh gym, with room for 882 visitors to sit on bleachers, an amphitheater with 780 seats, five outdoor basketball courts, one soccer field, a library and a performing arts-multipurpose room.
Three of the building’s rooftops are covered with solar panels to provide energy for the entire school. The floors were constructed from recyclable materials and all the school’s landscape will be drought resistant, said Rick Shirley, the project manager who has helped build nine other LAUSD schools.
“There’s always construction wrinkles to work through,” Shirley said, adding that the neighbors have made few complaints during construction. “This project has gone pretty well.”
In addition, the campus will be graced with low maintenance,  low water landscape with over 200 trees, including 98 coastal oaks, 25 sycamores, 15 Catalina ironwoods and 12 Torrey pines. Shrubs such as Manzanita, dwarf coyote brush and coastal sage will also spruce up the school, Shirley explained.
Neighbors of the campus who were particularly concerned about the school were able to win scores of concessions from the district, including that there should be no night-lighting outside for sports or any access to students off of Alma Street.
Still, there are many happy administrators who will be running programs at the Olguin facility.
“I am so excited for the opportunities that will be available at the Olguin Campus for all San Pedro High School students,” said Sandy Martin-Alvarenga, coordinator for both magnets. “Marine Science Magnet students will benefit in many ways, one in particular is the proximity to the Marine Mammal Care Center and the Oiled Bird Center. This will allow our students the opportunity to see the practical application of their studies.”

Police officer Cynthia Deinstein, who oversees the police academy magnet, considers the move for her students a godsend – especially because the new campus will have an obstacle course and a pool.  Her students, she said, had to compete without the use of such a course against the other LAUSD magnets that had them. San Pedro high did not.
“Like everyone else, I’m very excited,” Deinstein said. “I’m optimistic. We’ll have a pool and an obstacle course and we’ve never had that opportunity before. When competing, we didn’t have that luxury.”
There are also a few perks for the public.  For the first time, the San Pedro High swim team will have a school pool to work out in. Under an agreement between LAUSD and the city of Los Angeles, the pool will be opened to the public and be run by city’s aquatic department.
Harbor College is also expected to hold night classes at the site.
The new campus is also hemmed in by numerous educational facilities that can help students academically. Those include the mammal care center, the International Bird Rescue, the Fort MacArthur Museum along with the Angel’s Gate Cultural Center, which houses many local artists who teach.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dear Readers: This is a reposting due to embedded coding going out to subscribers. I apologize and have reposted so it's easier to read.

By Diana L. Chapman
Peering at the distraught, crying students at Miramonte Elementary School – a campus that has riveted the nation with scandalous child abuse allegations and the removal of two teachers --  makes me believe “the adults” in charge have done it wrong once again.
Los Angeles Schools Superintendent John Deasy, I’m afraid, needs to look directly into those young faces and realize that stripping them of 85 of their good teachers along with administrators, janitors and school aides --amounts to stripping them of everything they know in their second home.
 Their school.
Between the chaos of police, reporters and school officials descending on the South Central campus – scary enough for anyone let alone children who can barely grasp what’s happening --  Deasy has just scrubbed excess salt into the open, wounded hearts of the students  and branded the now former staff with guilt by association.
“It’s clear that LAUSD does not have a plan,” said UTLA President Warren Fletcher at the school of 1,500 students, one of district’s largest elementary campuses. “They’re making it up as they go a long and the kids are paying the price. LAUSD is making a tragic situation even worse and traumatizing the entire school unnecessarily.
Parents and students want their teachers back.”
Can you blame them?
The vastness of Deasy’s action – apparently unprecedented in LAUSD and perhaps the nation – can’t help but trigger  more unsettling emotions among parents and students alike. They protested the move at an early Thursday morning UTLA press conference carrying signs such as “Don’t condemn all for acts of a few”  and showing anger that once again, they had not been consulted.
While initially believing the move was temporary, Fletcher said he was told the staff would not return at all.
 Such action will largely disrupt the children’s academic progress while they try to build bonds with new instructors. Having a substitute teacher for one day can be a huge interruption in learning. What will removing the entire staff do?
But this is the LAUSD way, a rubber stamp in the second largest district in the nation, serving nearly 700,000 students. Rottenness by some, means everyone pays.  
Unless there is going to be a horde of new arrests – which seems unlikely unless Deasy knows something we don’t– this move makes no sense and can only be more harmful to the students.
At the center of the allegations are two long-time Miramonte teachers: Mark Berndt, charged last week with 23 counts of lewd conduct, after a drug store photo tech contacted police about hundreds of photographs that involved students being blindfolded and possibly being spoon fed Berndt’s semen.
The other teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, 49 was arrested last week for three counts of lewd contact for allegedly fondling a student.
LAUSD fired both instructors, who have pleaded not guilty to the crimes.
At this juncture, we have to ask ourselves why the administrators weren’t on top of this in the first place after the school received several complaints about Berndt.
As a longtime volunteer at Los Angeles schools, I’ve seen injustices that are just plain wrong – nothing as horrendous as this – but issues that should not be happening at public schools.
It’s driven me crazy (and cannot be taken on without major battles), but underscores why parents need to return and become part of the campus package, no matter if it’s a charter, private or public school. It’s a necessary checks-and-balances and brings out a better chance of student issues actually being taken seriously.
It’s more than sad that when students stepped forward at Miramonte – a campus tucked east of the 110 Freeway in South Los Angeles --  to complain about Berndt or Springer, they were told they shouldn’t make things up.
Perhaps we should start out by listening to the students first and giving their complaints a full investigation, rather than a wave of hand.
No one listened to the children then.
And no one is listening to the children now, who are begging for their teachers to return.
You don’t have to hear how they feel. You can just look into their faces.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Two dogs enjoy walking along the new promenade that is now open to the public.
By Diana L. Chapman
It’s still a hidden San Pedro secret.
At least for several more months. But for now, a 1 1/3 mile walkway tucked neatly between the Port of Los Angeles’ Main and West channels has opened and is ready for  walking business.
“It’s beautiful,” said one woman strolling with her husband on a sunny Sunday afternoon, her husband nodding his head in agreement, saying it was their first visit to the promenade.
On a bright weekend afternoon with dusty blue skies and a warming sun, few other walkers had discovered the promenade – yet.
In what the port’s media director Phil Sanfield called “a soft opening.” The port took down one of its final fences Feb. 1st to allow visitors to explore the entire walkway which starts around 22nd and Miner streets. Boat operations, however, aren't expected for many more months when the port plans a celebratory opening.
The completed promenade is part of the $128 million package to develop the new Cabrillo Way Marina.
“We’re thrilled that the Cabrillo Way Marina promenade is now available for residents and visitors to enjoy,” said Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. “It’s a breathtaking walk and it showcases the beauty of the new marina. We’re looking forward to a celebration to fully open the marina later this year.”
Bike riders enjoying the view at the southern edge of the walkway.
With a palm tree lined street, stylized benches and panoramic views of Angels Gate Light House perched out on the breakwater, the new path seems to beckon joggers, walkers, parents with strollers, bike riders, skateboarders and dog walkers –as soon as they discover it.
The marina’s development comes complete with 700 “wet” boat slips and involves 46 acres of land and 41 acres of water, port officials said.
In addition, the new marina includes 17,500 square feet of wood decking, 122 benches, 22 bike racks, 10 drinking fountains, 1,090 trees about and about 40,000 shrubs.
Currently, the scenic view of Cabrillo Beach and San Pedro’s hills from the promenade now includes the large shadow of the Merchant Marine vessel, the S.S. Lane Victory.
 The ship was moved temporarily to Berth 46 along the southern edge of the promenade, Sanfield said, while the port works on improvements at Berth 50 along the East Channel.  Once housed in the docks underneath the Vincent Thomas Bridge, the Lane Victory had to vacate the area for new wharf expansion.
It will remain at Berth 46 for nine months then move to Berth 50.  A permanent home for the Lane Victory has yet to be finalized for the supply ship, used during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars.
On Feb. 13, the vessel will reopen again for tours at the new marina.
In the meantime, the promenade is bound to quickly become a popular place once discovered. The project overall includes 360 parking  spaces, several public bathrooms and a 10,000 square foot park area.
With the new marina and the expected summer arrival of the U.S.S. Iowa, a World War II battleship that was donated to the non-profit Pacific Battleship Center, making its new home near the port’s cruise terminal, officials expect an exciting transformation of the waterfront.
“The synergy that’s being created along the LA waterfront in exciting,” Sanfield said. “This $130 million project encompasses more than 80 acres of land and water in the West Channel area.
“ With 700 boat slips and one of the most scenic locations in the area, it’s going to be a popular spot.”