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In a world of change, dancing puppets still delight

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 31 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

One day, maybe not so many days from now, the Bob Baker Marionette Theater will be gone.

Its debt will prove at last too much to bear. Its boxy white buildings will be sold.

And people will be sad, particularly those who talked for years about going without doing so.

"You better hurry up," says Baker, 88, whose pain-plagued hands and feet make it hard for him to walk and to get his beloved creations to dance.

Outside his 53-year-old theater on a still scruffy edge of downtown, so much has changed in the world.

Baker's handmade puppets used to land parts in movies and pitch products in television commercials.

He was known as "the butterfly man," he says, because he used real butterfly wings to make lifelike butterfly puppets and stood on many a set on a crane waving a pole, manipulating strings to make them flutter.

"Now they can do that with CGI," Baker says. Computer graphics came in and studios stopped calling. Families stayed at home too, staring at TV. Another prime source of income — schools — in recent years also all but dried up, as deep budget cuts axed many a field trip.

Still, inside the theater, the same old music from decades gone by continues to play under the same chandeliers. Puppeteers dressed in black still step out toward the audience, lit by lights from the long-gone Philharmonic Auditorium. (No one makes the bulbs anymore, says Baker. Recently, they tracked down two in Paris.)

And in this seemingly changeless place, something remarkable often happens — even at this time of the year, which is the slowest of the slow, when it's only worth trying to draw a crowd for a few performances a week.

People come in who first came as children. They bring their children or even their grandchildren. They find a world extraordinarily close to the one they remember, not markedly altered by time. And they are startled.

How often in this fast-moving world does reality match distant memory?

We look back on childhood movies that were sweet and innocent. We go to ones made now and find that snark and innuendo snuck in.

Not so in Bob Baker's annual "Halloween Hoop-de-Doo," which plays Wednesday morning and closes on Sunday.

It is a Halloween vision far removed from the modern-day horror-movie graphic.

Yes, glowing skeletons dance, but a la vaudeville, in straw hats, swinging canes. Coffins creak, but they're counterbalanced by a little boy in a red nightshirt and nightcap, singing, "You are my lucky star," as stars surround him. Dracula woos Vampira, but there are '50s-era spaceships too; they look like spinning tops, and cheerful green creatures pop out of them.

Here and there a moment is just scary enough to make a toddler squirm. When the show's over, there's free vanilla ice cream for all.

No such happy ending's yet in view for the venerable theater, which is mortgaged to the hilt and in arrears on taxes.

Stop by when you can, Baker says. Lend a hand by showing up.

"Come," he says. "Come and use your imagination. Come inside and let yourself believe."

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

Follow Lelyveld's City Beat on Twitter @latimescitybeat or on Facebook at Los Angeles Times City Beat.


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Victims' relatives divided on ending death penalty

Past California governors joined with crime victims Tuesday to announce their opposition to a proposal to end the death penalty, while a second set of victims said ending capital punishment would give them closure.

Former Gov. Gray Davis joined Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian at a news conference in Los Angeles, a key battleground for the campaign opposing Proposition 34, which would replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole. Alluding to the conclusion by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office that Proposition 34 could save the state as much as $130 million a year, Davis said the measure "has nothing to do with economics — and everything to do with justice."

"When it comes to keeping California safe, voters should ask themselves, who do they trust?" Davis said.

In opposing Proposition 34, Davis said he was standing with law enforcement and "the families of crime victims who have suffered incredible pain at the hands of violent criminals."

Joe Bonaminio, the father of slain Riverside Police Officer Ryan Bonaminio, 27, read a letter from his daughter asking voters to oppose the initiative so that Bonaminio's killer can be executed. Bonaminio, an Iraq war veteran, was shot in the head while pursuing a suspect.

But crime victims at a separate news conference hosted by the League of Women Voters said the rarely enforced death penalty failed to deter crime, wasted money and forced the victims' loved ones to endure decades of court appeals and uncertainty.

"I don't want or need the death penalty," said Bethany Webb, whose sister was killed and mother was shot last year at a Seal Beach beauty salon.

Webb, 51, a loan officer who lives in Huntington Beach, said Orange County prosecutors have told victims' families that they should be prepared for 25 years of appeals and court dates if Scott Evans Dekraai, the accused gunman, is sentenced to death. Dekraai, who is charged with killing eight people, has yet to be tried.

"That is not closure for my family," Webb said. "That is not closure for the other families."

Proposition 34 would commute the death sentences of the state's more than 727 death row inmates to life without parole and end automatic public funding for lawyers to challenge murder convictions.

Supporters of capital punishment argue that any savings could be consumed by lifetime healthcare for inmates. They note that none of the 13 offenders executed in California since 1978 was later found to be innocent.

Executions in California have been blocked by the courts for six years but could resume at a brisk pace if the state adopted a single-drug method of lethal injection, death penalty supporters say. About 14 inmates on death row have already exhausted their primary appeals.

Deukmejian, speaking at the opposition's news conference, called the death penalty "a proven deterrent."

"Criminals know the law and in many cases are afraid of receiving a death sentence," Deukmejian said. "This threat can prevent violence on the streets and against correctional officers serving in state prisons."

Crime victims in favor of Proposition 34 disagreed. Dion Wilson, whose husband, San Leandro Police Officer Nels "Dan" Niemi, 42, was killed while responding to a disturbance call in 2005, said she burned with hatred for his killer and desperately wanted him sentenced to death.

But when his killer was sentenced to death, she received no solace, she said.

"I thought I would feel better," said Wilson, 43, a massage therapist who now lives in Morgan Hill, Calif. "But I didn't feel better. It didn't work.... It didn't change anything."

Opponents of Proposition 34 include police, a statewide prosecutors' association and victims' groups. Supporters include the state's Roman Catholic bishops, the former prosecutor who wrote the death penalty law, a former San Quentin Prison warden who presided over executions, retired Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and executioners from other states.

A poll released Tuesday by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University showed Proposition 34 trailing by nearly 7 points, with 41.3% in favor and 47.9% opposed.

maura.dolan@latimes.com


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Boy who shot neo-Nazi dad just another killer, prosecutor says

The 10-year-old son of a Riverside neo-Nazi leader was just another killer when he shot his sleeping father on the couch on an early May morning last year, a prosecutor told a judge Tuesday.

Sitting unshackled, the now 12-year-old boy listened as Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio told a Riverside County judge that the sandy-haired boy knew that killing his father, Jeffrey Hall, 32, was wrong.

Hall's role as a regional director of the National Socialist Movement is simply a "red herring," he said.

The boy "is no different than any other murderer," Soccio said in his opening statement. He "would have shot his father if he was a member of the Peace and Freedom Party."

But Public Defender Matthew Hardy said the boy, who had learning disabilities, pulled the trigger after being manipulated to kill Hall by his stepmother, Krista F. McCary. Hardy portrayed her as angry over the possibility her husband was about to leave her for another woman.

"We are not going to suggest she killed him," Hardy told the judge. "She used this young man to kill him."

The boy, whose name is not being released by The Times because he is a juvenile, has been charged with murder. If the allegations against the boy are found to be true, he could remain in juvenile custody until he is 23.

During his opening statement, Soccio portrayed the family as rather normal, showing the court several photos, including one of the family frolicking in the surf.

Soccio said the boy shot his father with a .357 magnum revolver because he believed Hall was about to leave McCary and take custody of the boy. So, Soccio said, he "found a way to stop it."

While on a backyard swing set the day before, the defendant told one of his sisters about the plan, Soccio said.

Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard, who is acting as a juvenile judge in the case, must rule that the child knew that his actions were wrong at the time of the shooting to find the murder allegations true.

Hardy argued that the child's sense of right and wrong was clouded by the household in which he lived, where National Socialist Movement meetings took place, guns were accessible and beatings were regular. The upbringing conditioned the boy to violence, he said.

In the end, Hardy argued, the child believed that he was protecting his family and putting an end to the violence Hall inflicted upon them. The boy thought he would become a "hero," Hardy said.

"He would not have pulled the trigger if he thought it was wrong," Hardy said.

Riverside Police Officer Michael Foster, a prosecution witness, testified that the child expressed remorse on the day of the shooting.

"He asked me things like 'Do people get more than one [life]?' " he told the court.

McCary, 27, said Tuesday that she viewed the boy as her son, and he shared that view, calling her mother.

She testified that the boy knew right from wrong, was difficult to control and was prone to violent outbursts. Her husband, a plumber who was unemployed at the time of the killing, abused drugs and beat the boy more than the other children; when he was intoxicated, the family would go to another room to avoid him, she said.

McCary said she had an "open relationship" with her husband and was not angered by the possibility of his relationship with another woman. Still, she said, she expressed a desire to end the marriage because of her husband's mood swings.

"You were never sure which Jeff you were going to get," she said.

In the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, McCary testified, she came downstairs after hearing a bang.

"When I flicked on the lights, I could see blood on the floor," she testified.

The family's suburban home near UC Riverside blended in with the well-kept neighborhood. But neighbors complained about Hall's occasional neo-Nazi gatherings and police discovered filthy bathrooms, bedrooms smelling of urine and a National Socialist Movement flag hanging above strewn beer bottles.

After McCary found her husband bleeding on the couch, she testified, the boy admitted shooting him.

"He said 'I shot dad.' "

"I said, 'Why?' "

"He didn't answer."

andrew.khouri@latimes.com


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Taiwanese will no longer need visas to visit U.S.

Yi-Shen Chou has spent more than 30 years in the U.S., first as a motel operator and now as a Monterey Park retiree who enjoys line dancing and computer games.

His family — a half-dozen brothers and sisters and numerous nieces and nephews — remains in Taiwan. Occasionally, Chou reunites with them on one side of the Pacific or the other, but for the most part, he is alone here.

Chou, 71, may soon be able to see his relatives more often. Starting Thursday, Taiwanese citizens will no longer need a visa to visit the U.S., eliminating a cumbersome and expensive process that deterred some people from making the trip at a time when few Taiwanese are seeking to settle here permanently.

The reaction from mainland China, which normally opposes any granting of diplomatic benefits to Taiwan, has been muted, with a spokesman saying the change will not have much of an effect on cross-straits relations.

Taiwan will join countries such as France and Germany in a visa waiver program that the U.S. government reserves for nationalities that it deems pose little security threat and that are not major sources of illegal immigration.

Taiwanese travelers will no longer have to wait in line at the U.S. Consulate in Taipei or pay a $164 fee and convince an interviewer that they will return home. The visas were good for short-term stays within a five-year period, but some people never braved the initial hurdle.

"I'm really very happy for Taiwanese citizens. This is really a huge step forward," said Chung-Chen Kung, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. "Taiwanese citizens all have a lot of friends, relatives and classmates in the United States, especially in Southern California."

The Taiwanese government projects that the number of visitors from the island may increase from 400,000 to as many as 600,000 a year, a boon for local hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and amusement parks.

The visa waiver also represents a rare diplomatic victory for Taiwan, which at China's insistence is not officially recognized by most countries.

Citizens of the 37 visa waiver countries, which include Japan and South Korea, can stay in the U.S. for 90 days after filling out an online travel authorization form and paying a nominal fee.

To qualify for the program, a country must meet a list of security-related requirements, including border control standards and low rejection rates for visa applications. The U.S. government may withhold approval, even if all the criteria are met.

In an Oct. 10 speech, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou called the visa waiver a "big vote of confidence" that "enhances mutual trust at the highest levels of government."

China hopes to join the visa waiver program, but "it's not a one- or two-day thing," said Xing Lei, a spokesman for the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Los Angeles.

"We hope that the U.S. and both sides of the Taiwan strait can have a one-China policy," Xing said. "If the territory of Taiwan and the United States move toward more openness in tourism, trade and commerce, we welcome that."

These days, newcomers to the San Gabriel Valley's Chinese enclaves are more likely to hail from mainland China than from Taiwan.

The number of immigrant visas issued to Taiwan-born applicants fell by more than half in the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of State, while those granted to China-born applicants went up by nearly 20%.

With Taiwanese posing a low risk of overstaying their travel visas, allowing them to bypass a time-consuming application process makes sense, some say.

"Nobody wants to stay here, so why not open the gates?" said Roger Hwang, 57, a native of Taiwan who came to the U.S. in 1991 and teaches a dance class at the Taiwan Center in Rosemead. "Opening the U.S. gates for Taiwanese is good."

The Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board is projecting an increase this year in Taiwanese visitors of about 25%, up from the 89,000 who visited the city in 2011. Taiwanese visitors spent about $179 million in the Los Angeles area in 2011, according to board estimates.

Chou's older brother has been waiting until the visa waiver program gets underway to book a ticket to California.

"It's a big help that they can come to the U.S. and see me. I'm really happy. I really welcome it," Chou said in Mandarin during a break from a dance class at the Taiwan Center.

Mei Yu usually takes her daughter to spend the summers in Taiwan with their large family. Now, with the visa waiver in effect, those relatives plan to come to Southern California instead — mainly so they can scope out the merchandise at U.S. malls. Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and Hollister are the brands of choice for the younger generation. For Yu's sister, it's Coach and Chanel.

"They were too lazy to come. Now, they can come any time. There will be a lot of them coming," said Yu, 51, of Hacienda Heights, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years.

cindy.chang@latimes.com


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L.A. schools fail to gain union backing for grant application

Written By kolimtiga on Selasa, 30 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

An effort by the Los Angeles Unified School District to win a high-profile $40-million grant has unraveled after the L.A. teachers union declined to sign the application, a condition for the competition imposed by the federal education department.

The dollars were modest compared to the school system's multibillion-dollar annual budget, but school district officials said the Race to the Top grant could have provided critical services as well as additional jobs.

"I'm disappointed," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. "It's a shame that we won't be able to provide this support for students and hire the staff."

Deasy could submit an application anyway, but said federal rules for the money required a written commitment to the terms of the grant by the local teachers union.

Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast resulted in an extension of the Oct. 30 application deadline, but "I've been told that we're done," said Deasy, recounting his last contact Monday with the union.

In the end the main sticking point was financial, said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. He noted that similar grants to states have committed officials to efforts that cost more than the grants provided.

He said the district's $43.3-million proposal seemed headed in the same direction.

The end result, he said, could have been future cutbacks in classroom teachers and services to students.

"There was greater risk than likely reward," he said.

Deasy has countered that, in fact, the money would have supported efforts already underway. He said private donations would have made up for any costs beyond the grant award.

L.A. Unified's 150-page application focused in the first year on helping 25,000 students in 35 low-performing middle and high schools. Six of 10 ninth-graders fail to earn enough credits to advance to 10th grade, marking a "critical tipping point" for them, the application said.

The district proposed personalized learning plans aided by digital tablets, summer school, learning projects linked to careers, anti-dropout counseling and other services.

The Race to the Top grant program was extended from states to individual school districts for the first time this year. The U.S. Department of Education established a $400-million pool of funding. About 15 to 25 awards, in the range of $5 million to $40 million, will be distributed as four-year grants.

California failed to win earlier state competitions in part because many unions declined to support the effort.

All along, union officials in California have objected to some of the federal conditions, in particular that students' test scores or other measures of academic achievement be a "significant factor" in teacher evaluations by 2014.

The L.A. union has vociferously asserted that state standardized test scores are an inaccurate measure of teacher performance, but Fletcher said that issue wasn't the fatal flaw.

He noted that the district and union already are negotiating over terms of a teacher evaluation that, under state law, must incorporate test scores. The negotiations are taking place with a mediator under a court order.

Deasy said he was willing to agree in writing that the grant application would not be used as leverage in these negotiations.

Still, Fletcher said he was concerned that the grant would set in stone potentially problematic practices. It would be better, he said, for officials, principals (through their union) and teachers to reach consensus on how best to move forward.

howard.blume@latimes.com


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For these high school grads, pomp with different circumstances

The school band played "Pomp and Circumstance." The girls donned rhinestone-bejeweled caps and sparkly stilettos. And a nervous announcer offered the students a pre-ceremony warning: If you don't tell me how to pronounce your name, I'll get it wrong.

It was a typical high school graduation, except this one took place last week. The Montebello Unified School District gave 104 students a second chance to make up lost credits, pass the exit exam and receive a diploma.

"We figure if they have a discouraging experience at the end of high school, they'll never continue on," Board of Education member Gerri Guzman said.

Among the graduates: a self-described troublemaker who struggled with math and fell further behind when his mother got deported; a girl from Jalisco who four years earlier had stepped on campus knowing only one word of English ("hello"); and a girl who found out on graduation day last June that she wouldn't participate because she had failed government class.

Montebello High School's auditorium looked like a box of crayons that night. Rows of students wearing different colored gowns represented the district's high schools: Bell Gardens, Montebello, Schurr, Vail and Community.

After an introduction of the school board members and a few words from its president, the emcee asked the first row of students to stand and make their way toward the stage.

As he watched a blur of camera flashes and handshakes, Germain Estrada, 20, waited with wide eyes. Thoughts of the last several years whirled through his mind.

He thought about the friends that he'd picked and the classes — especially math — that he'd ditched.

His dad wasn't around and his mom worked long hours. By his junior year, he was missing so many credits that he was enrolled in an alternative school. Then, his floundering academics took another blow: His mother was deported to Mexico.

Estrada whispered as he remembered those days. "That really put me down completely," he said. "Completely."

Eventually, though, things changed. He lived with his brother, Edwin, who was only a year older. He watched him sacrifice his dream of culinary school to work two jobs and support them.

"That woke me up. It snapped me out of my element," Estrada said. "It's like, 'You have to do this. It's for your mom. It's for your brother.' "

But it was for himself too.

"I was always the troublemaker type. A lot of people said I wasn't going to make it," Estrada said. "So I got up on my feet and did what I had to do."

He started going to his classes and taking extra ones after school.

As he walked to the front of the auditorium, he heard his family's cheers. He waited until his hand gripped the diploma and then he smiled, scanned the crowd and nodded to them.

Sitting nearby, Marta Vargas looked on in awe of her younger sister, who in a few years had accomplished something she had long tried to do: learn English.

After their mom died of cancer, her then-15-year-old sister, Maria Pelayo, moved from Mexico to live with her and her husband.

When she moved here, the thin teenager with olive skin and big, brown eyes could speak only Spanish, and she had trouble passing the English portion of the mandatory exit exam her senior year.

Pelayo vividly remembers the day she found out she had passed.


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PETA seeks memorial where 1,600 pounds of fish died in Irvine

On behalf of the animal rights group PETA, an Irvine woman is asking the city to erect a memorial at the street corner where 1,600 pounds of fish died this month when a container truck crashed into two other vehicles.

Dina Kourda, a volunteer with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote to the Irvine Public Works Department to request that a sign be placed at Walnut and Yale avenues to honor the lives of the fish — believed to be saltwater bass — lost in the accident.

The fish had been stored in large tanks that cracked open as a result of the Oct. 11 accident. When firefighters opened the back of the truck, some fish flopped out, and others had already died. None of the people in the accident were seriously injured.

"Although such signs are traditionally reserved for human fatalities, I hope you'll make an exception because of the enormous suffering involved in this case, in order to remind drivers that all animals — whether they're humans, basset hounds or bass — value their lives and feel pain," Kourda wrote.

PETA spokeswoman Ashley Byrne said the organization had called for memorials for other types of animals such as cows and pigs, but this was the first time the group has requested a fish remembrance.

She said it's appropriate: "Hundreds of fish perished in this accident, suffocating slowly on the roadway."

In her letter, Kourda said the sign "would also remind tractor-trailer drivers of their responsibility to the thousands of animals who are hauled to their deaths every day."

She wrote that the sign should be placed at the edge of the right-of-way, at a spot far from the road, so it wouldn't interfere with traffic.

City spokesman Craig Reem said he was not familiar with Irvine's procedure for dealing with such a request.

"I do think it's fair to say we have no plans to erect a memorial," he said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com


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At polluted Santa Susana lab site, sacred cave attracts tribe's bid

The Chumash tribe has expressed interest in buying a 450-acre slice of a contaminated nuclear research facility in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys, hoping to preserve a cave that its members consider sacred.

The tribe's inquiries about acquiring part of the 2,849-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory have stirred concern among some residents who fear the purchase might be a back door to building a casino.

"I very much respect their desire to protect sacred sites but I want to make sure any such action precludes the establishment of a casino," Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks said.

Sam Cohen, government affairs and legal officer for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash, said there is no possibility of a casino on the property. The tribe wants to protect a swath of land that includes the Burro Flats Painted Cave, which is decorated with some of the best preserved Native American pictographs in California.

"If the tribe owns the land, we'll be in the best position to protect sacred sites," Cohen said.

Parks questioned whether the Chumash, a sovereign nation like other federally recognized tribes, would be bound by the elaborate cleanup agreement orders that apply to the portion of the sprawling facility that they are seeking.

Most of the lab site is owned by Boeing, which purchased it when the company acquired Rocketdyne in 1996. Boeing has not signed on to a 2010 cleanup plan with state regulators, but under the plan, NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy have promised to remove tainted soil and pollutants from the areas they control by 2017.

The Painted Cave is on NASA land.

Listed in 1976 on the National Register of Historic Places, Burro Flats has long been recognized for its archaeological significance. Perhaps as long as 1,000 years ago, Native American groups used the cave for rituals. Its walls are lined with paintings, including stick-figure animals and cornstalk-like plants. On the first day of winter, a shaft of light illuminates a design resembling a target; some researchers believe it was used in a ceremony marking the winter solstice.

Established in 1947, the secretive lab tested liquid propellants for rocket engines. In 1957, one of America's first commercial nuclear power plants was built at the site, generating electricity for nearby Moorpark. In 1959, that plant was also the site of America's first partial nuclear meltdown — an accident revealed only decades later. Over the years, the lab generated toxic and radioactive wastes that neighbors blamed for cancer and other illnesses.

Even amid testing of about 30,000 rocket engines, the area around the cave was not damaged. Tight security kept visitors away. Over the years, NASA has admitted closely escorted groups of Native Americans "for ceremonial purposes," but such treks have become increasingly rare, said Merrilee Fellows, a NASA spokeswoman.

Although decades of security have helped preserve the cave's painted images, Cohen said, the tribe fears the effects of possible cleanup measures, including one he described as "scraping the site clean."

Officials say such fears are unfounded.

"We've heard hyperbole being kicked around about scraping the top off the mountain and it's not remotely accurate," said Rick Brausch, who is directing the cleanup for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Scientists are still gauging the scope of contamination on the NASA-controlled property, he said. Some of the cleanup will involve carting off truckloads of soil. Other methods have not yet been determined.

"We don't even think there's contamination in that particular area" of the cave, Brausch said. "If there were, we'd design a strategy that wouldn't destroy the resource."

Regardless of whether the land changes hands, the cleanup will proceed, officials said.

The federal General Services Administration has deemed the NASA portion of the lab "excess" property, indicating its willingness to sell. Last month, the Bureau of Indian Affairs told the agency that the tribe was interested in mounting a bid. No price has been disclosed.

Cohen said the tribe might collaborate with other Native American groups to build a cultural center.

He said the tribe would not seek to make the land part of its reservation — a legal requirement for tribal gambling operations. The Chumash have met stiff opposition in their attempt to annex 1,400 acres just down the road from their tiny Santa Ynez reservation. Neighbors fear the tribe will erect a casino on the property, a scenario the tribe denies.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com


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Taiwan tries to recruit California students to its universities

Written By kolimtiga on Senin, 29 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

Taiwan's minister of education, Wei-Ling Chiang, traveled to California last week to address a rarely discussed trade imbalance with the United States.

"Just 3,561 American-born students are enrolled in Taiwanese universities, while about 24,000 Taiwanese students enroll in universities in the U.S," Chiang said. "We really have to address the situation now."

Concerned about a brain drain, Taiwanese education officials and top public universities are renewing their efforts to enroll more international students. A dozen Taiwanese college information centers have opened in nine countries in the last few years, including a Michigan office in August.

And in the San Gabriel Valley, Taiwan's university recruiters have begun to target a new demographic: the Taiwanese American teenager.

On Saturday officials held what they said was the first Taiwanese education fair in the U.S., at the Chinese Cultural Center in El Monte. About a thousand people attended, attracted by advertisements in local Chinese language radio and television stations.

Chiang made the case for Taiwan's universities himself in a welcome speech: A typical undergraduate education costs about $3,000 per year, a tuition set by the government, and living costs are much lower than in the U.S. Several degree programs are taught in English and several professors have degrees from Ivy League institutions.

"Your children will enjoy a high quality education while learning about Taiwan's culture," said Chiang, a Stanford graduate.

The pitch was perhaps more attractive to parents of the second- and third-generation Taiwanese American students who were the targets of the enrollment push. They crowded around the table for the prestigious National Taiwan University, peppering an advisor with questions.

"What are the dorms like?" asked one parent.

Their children hung back, thrusting hands deep into jeans pockets and adjusting headphones.

"I've never really considered [school in Taiwan] ... but my mom saw the commercials," said Jasmine Tseng, 22, a student at Cal State Long Beach.

Some parents came even without their children's cooperation. Hai-long Huang's daughter already attends a local college, but he wants her to transfer to a Taiwanese university so she can learn more about her heritage.

"She might come in the afternoon," Huang said, one arm hugging a thick sheaf of pamphlets and brochures to his chest. "I'm just taking these home for her to take a look."

The idea of a Taiwanese education appealed to parents who believe their children will graduate into a job market increasingly dominated by Asian languages and businesses. For many, the prospect of an American education has lost its shine.

Steven Su ticked off the reasons on his fingers.

"First, financial aid to U.S. colleges is getting really bad. I don't want my daughters to graduate with a lot of debt and not be able to attend graduate school."

He also wants them to experience Chinese culture and learn the language. If they study in Taiwan, they can work throughout Asia. And, Su said, recent headlines about the cuts to California's public education system are frightening. Funding for the state's community college system has dropped more than a third since 2007. Campuses across the Cal State system are freezing enrollment, and hikes to UC tuition have become a perennial topic.

Max Liu, dean of the international college at Ming Chuan University, said the timing of the fair wasn't accidental. He wants to double, even triple, the number of American-born students attending his university in the next few years.

"Taiwan needs friends," Liu said. "We need people to experience the education and culture of Taiwan."

Janet Shang accompanied her daughter Sandy to the fair. Sandy, a fourth year student at USC studying biology, wants to attend medical school, which in Taiwan costs about $5,000 a year.

"It's just a Plan B," said Sandy, clad in an Oxford University sweater. "There's a lot of competition in America, and in Taiwan we have an advantage because we're bilingual."

Janet Shang agreed, but she had her own reasons.

"If she goes to medical school, then I can move back there with her," Shang said.

frank.shyong@latimes.com


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Alarcon suggests making Verdugo Hills Golf Course a historic site

L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon is hoping to save the Verdugo Hills Golf Course from residential development by adding it to the city's list of historic and cultural monuments, citing its history as a detention center for Japanese Americans during World War II.

Residents contend the planned housing project would bring a torrent of vehicle traffic to the urban-rural area and get rid of a long-standing recreational resource. Other efforts to prevent development on the land have included failed attempts to rezone it or cobble together enough grants and government funding to buy it outright.

A community meeting to discuss the councilman's proposal will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the North Valley Neighborhood City Hall in Tujunga.

Alarcon contends that residential development would degrade the site's historic value.

"There is a rich and important history in the northeast San Fernando [Valley] that must be protected so kids today and generations in the future can learn from our past," the he said in a statement. "I strongly believe that a housing development would be inconsistent with our goal to preserve the legacy of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station site."

During World War II, the federal government converted the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp — where the golf course is now located — into the Tuna Canyon Detention Station.

Tuna Canyon was "a gateway to internment," according to Alarcon's office: a barbed-wire enclosure with armed troops to receive people who were considered "enemy aliens" and had been taken into custody after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Snowball West Investments, which owns the golf course, plans to move forward with the residential development but is willing to work with historic preservation supporters, said company spokesman Michael Hoberman.

"As far as we know, there is nothing at the property anymore that was from the camp," Hoberman said.

If a building used at the camp is found, he said, Snowball West officials would be open to discussions on how to preserve it. "I'm a supporter of preserving history," Hoberman said. The company also would be willing to install a plaque within the development commemorating the site as a former detention center.

Past efforts to save the golf course include a proposal to build a storm water treatment facility on the site using funds from Proposition O, approved about eight years ago by Los Angeles voters to improve local water quality.

mark.kellam@latimes.com


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Preservationists build coalition to save undeveloped Silver Lake parcel

This is one part of Silver Lake that has no lake view. In fact, the only views are from atop a corkscrew drive that looks out over a pair of freeways, the 5 and the 2.

Residents, however, see this 10.2-acre stretch of undeveloped land — along Riverside Drive to the east and Corralitas Drive to the south — as a sanctuary. They also want to keep it that way.

"For all the neighbors around here this is paradise," said longtime resident Russell Bates, standing in a meadow on what residents call the Corralitas Red Car property.

In the last two-plus decades, the privately owned property has traded hands only a few times. So when it went on the market in July, residents said their fears grew that this time a new owner actually would build here.

Councilman Eric Garcetti said last week that he had always thought the property should be preserved for public use.

"Increasing open space in my district — which is the city's densest — has been a top priority of mine since I've taken office," Garcetti said. "I'm proud that we've nearly tripled the number of parks here, but the reality of our urban environment is that large and available open space parcels are few and far between. I've long had my eye on the Red Car property.... Now that it looks as if a sale to the public might become a reality, I've taken action to make sure the city is ready to tender an offer."

The first steps — to determine what the city would be able to pay based on the property's fair market value, among other things — are already underway, he said.

The land, a nearly mile-long strip east of the lake, takes about 30 minutes to walk — a bit longer with a dawdling dog — and is only 100 feet wide in some spots. Its canopy of trees blocks the Southern California sun and serves as a sound barrier, with the hollow whir of tires on concrete replaced by chirping birds.

Some see Eden when they look at the Southern California black walnut trees that have found a place to thrive, and want it preserved for public land; others see three-story duplexes stacked like shoe boxes — "up to 178 residential units," according to a listing — with glass front walls to savor the sun.

"If you roll out a map of the area … this is the last undeveloped spot that's residentially zoned," said Bryant Brislin, who works for Hoffman Co., the property's broker. "I mean this is it. There are very few left. There are less than 10."

The property was once part of a Pacific Electric streetcar line, which ran from downtown and cut through Silver Lake en route to Glendale and Burbank. Pacific Electric owned two lines, the green car line and the red car line.

The red car line was decommissioned in 1955, and the Silver Lake property was returned to its private owner. Since then, at least one owner sought to subdivide the five-parcel lot for development, which is now zoned for duplexes. The current owner, Liza E. Torkan, declined to comment.

"It's close to freeways and to a lot of hip retail and it's sandwiched between Elysian Park and Griffith Park, which is a lot of park land," Brislin said, "but not enough for Diane."

Diane Edwardson, a neighborhood activist, has fought for more than 20 years to keep the Red Car property public space. She came close to purchasing the land in 2001 with the help of the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy. But she was outbid by Torkan, who bought it for $300,000. The current selling price has not been disclosed.

Edwardson envisions a corridor of natural space full of animals; walking through the property, she pointed to a red-tailed hawk resting in a tree.

She also helped bring together landscape architecture professors and students from throughout L.A. to develop a plan that could connect the property and various neighborhoods to the nearby Los Angeles River. And she helped start the Community Residents' Assn. for Parks.

Although Edwardson has seen the conceptual plan for the property, a confidentiality agreement prevented her from discussing it. However, she has reached out to the Trust for Public Land, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Garcetti and Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district is nearby.

While the future of the land is still a question, there is one thing not in doubt. The pitch made in a 1922 brochure to sell lots in the area seems just as true today: "Outlying Los Angeles homesites are becoming less available every day. Never again will you be able to purchase close-in ones ..."

And if history is any indicator, Edwardson figures she could be in for a battle.

"Chances are we're going to have to fight another development operation," she said. "And we're really good at that."

california@latimes.com


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San Diego mayoral candidates draw lines in the mud

SAN DIEGO — After a campaign filled with negative TV commercials and name-calling, San Diego voters will choose between two philosophically opposed candidates to succeed termed-out Mayor Jerry Sanders, a moderate Republican.

Rep. Bob Filner, a liberal Democrat, and Councilman Carl DeMaio, a conservative Republican, disagree sharply on key issues but share one characteristic: Both have assertive, some say abrasive, personalities, unlike the low-key, consensus-minded Sanders.

As a debate moderator, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, said of them last week: "Both of you have reputations for not playing well with others."

Filner, 70, has been a fixture in San Diego politics for more than three decades, serving on the school board, City Council and in Congress for 10 terms. His verbal combativeness is well known.

"Yes, I have passion, but I have leadership," he says.

DeMaio, 38, arrived in San Diego a decade ago, determined to break into local politics. First as a City Hall gadfly, then as a council member representing a suburban district, he has prodded the council to play hardball with labor unions, hold the line on taxes and outsource as many city jobs as possible.

Take last week's tough talk: Filner called on U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy to resign because she criticized his demeanor at a forum she helped organize; DeMaio, at an education forum, said he is "willing to take on the teachers' union to get real reform done."

DeMaio says Filner "has a pattern of not being able to respect others and control his emotions," to which Filner says, "I don't need a lecture from a one-term council member."

The Filner campaign has aired a television commercial in which DeMaio is seen on a grainy video telling "tea party" members that he wants San Diego "to be a model." Another accuses him of opposing benefits for the widows and children of police officers killed in the line of duty, which DeMaio denies.

Pro-DeMaio forces have been airing two commercials about a 2007 confrontation between Filner and a baggage clerk at a Washington airport. Filner pleaded the equivalent of no contest to trespassing and paid a $100 fine in exchange for an assault charge being dropped.

If the Filner-DeMaio spat weren't enough alpha-male drama, hovering over the campaign looms the outsized persona of the new owner of the San Diego newspaper: hotelier and land developer Douglas Manchester, who prefers to be known as Papa Doug.

Manchester's newspaper, which he renamed U-T San Diego, has published front-page endorsements of DeMaio, followed by editorials blasting Filner's politics and personality. Public records show Manchester contributing to groups that gave to DeMaio's campaign.

Filner alleges that Manchester, in effect, is trying to buy the mayor's office so he will have DeMaio's support for land-use projects that benefit him financially, including a waterfront football stadium. Filner prefers that the land be used to expand cargo shipping, which he says will add more jobs.

"What deals have been made with Mr. Manchester?" Filner demanded at a debate last week. DeMaio denies that any deals have been made and maintains that he opposes Manchester's idea for a football stadium on Port District property.

DeMaio sponsored a voter-approved measure to end pensions for new city workers and cap pensions for current ones. Filner opposed the measure as a "fraud" and an abusive way to treat hard-working employees.

DeMaio supports the convention center expansion plan and a project to remove cars from Balboa Park. Filner says the two ideas are sellouts to private interests over the public good.

Filner would retain the police chief; DeMaio says he'll have to think it over.

Filner explains that he learned his political style of challenging authority from Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, his congressional website includes his 1961 booking photograph from his arrest in Jackson, Miss., as a Freedom Rider.

DeMaio's style comes from his experience as a consultant in Washington looking for ways to streamline government and make it more efficient. He says it is unfair for city workers to enjoy better salaries and pensions than those of private sector workers.

Despite months of heavy campaigning and media coverage, polls show a large number of undecided voters.

"It seems like he who slings the most mud last might just be the winner," said Carl Luna, political science professor at San Diego Mesa College. "Which, of course, leaves us with a muddy mess of politics with a divided community after the election."

tony.perry@latimes.com


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Partnership Walk aims to reduce global poverty

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 28 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

Southern Californians can strike a blow against poverty in Africa and Asia by joining Sunday in the 18th annual Partnership Walk.

The event, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Santa Monica Pier, is held in 10 major U.S. cities each year. Money raised goes to reduce global poverty and its close companions: hunger, illiteracy and poor health.

Last year's Los Angeles area walk raised more than $400,000, according to Rafiq Ghaswala, a spokesman for the Aga Khan Foundation USA, which established the Partnership Walk.

"Participants help communities in some of the poorest areas of Africa and Asia to create long-term, self-help solutions to lift themselves out of poverty," the organization said in a written statement about the project. "These contributions make a tremendous impact in creating opportunities for girls in Afghanistan to go to school, for farmers in Mali to feed their families and mothers in India to lead healthy lives."

This year's speaker is Jim Dyer, district governor-elect for the Rotary Club of America. Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom will be among opening ceremony participants. Other special guests include TV actors Noureen DeWulf of "Anger Management" and Parvesh Cheena of "Outsourced."

Walkers can learn more about the project and sign up at http://www.partnershipsinaction.org/LA. Registration can also be done at the pier on Sunday, starting at 9 a.m. Another option is to sponsor a walker.

Other cities holding Partnership Walks are Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Memphis, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; San Antonio; and San Francisco.

The foundation's PartnershipsInAction activities, including annual walk and golf events, have drawn more than 380,000 participants and raised $48 million, foundation officials said.

Established in 1981, the foundation is a private, non-denominational, nonprofit international development organization committed to alleviating poverty. It is part of the Aga Khan Development Network.

jean.merl@latimes.com


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Patrick Gannon named to lead L.A. Airport Police Department

By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

October 28, 2012

Former Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon has been named chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department, officials said.

The 34-year LAPD veteran, whose assignments included running South Bureau Operations and Detective Bureau, will now oversee the fourth-largest law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County, with more than 1,100 law enforcement, security and staff members.

The agency is responsible for policing the Los Angeles International, L.A./Ontario International and Van Nuys airports, as well as the city of Los Angeles' Palmdale aviation property.

Gannon will oversee personnel responsible for police patrols and tactical response, counterterrorism, criminal investigations, traffic control, dignitary protection and regulatory enforcement, officials said in announcing Gannon's appointment last week.

Airport officials named Michael T. Hyams the new deputy chief of airport police, under Gannon. He served as interim airport police chief after the retirement of George R. Centeno in February and is to continue in that role until Gannon takes over at the end of November.

Gannon is known for his diplomacy, problem-solving and team-building. As deputy chief of the LAPD's South Bureau, he oversaw 1,700 officers in half a dozen police divisions that served nearly 1 million people.

"He's one of the people I most respect in all of law enforcement," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. "To have him as the leader of the airport makes Los Angeles a much safer place."

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com


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Brown brings Prop. 30 campaign to L.A.'s Grand Central Market

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday brought his campaign to rescue Proposition 30 to downtown Los Angeles, flanked by Latino leaders who support his plan to raise billions of tax dollars to prevent severe cuts to education.

"This is a stark decision by the voters," Brown said during an event at Grand Central Market. "It's going to be billions of dollars into schools and colleges or billions of dollars out of schools and colleges. This is not about politicians or leaders or the governor. This is about teachers and students."

The governor's high-stakes measure would temporarily raise $6 billion by raising taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year and imposing a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax. If it passes, it would avoid further cuts to K-12 schools and tuition increases this year at California's public universities.

But Brown is having to put up a frantic fight for votes in the final days before the Nov. 6 election with a recent poll showing that support has dropped 9 points to 46%.

Opponents of the measure say the decline is a sign that voters do not trust politicians with the public's money. They have launched a fierce ad campaign, denouncing the governor's proposition.

"The Yes on 30 campaign is misleading and dishonest," said Aaron McLear, spokesman for the Stop Prop. 30 effort. "It claims money would go to schools, but the truth is, the money would go to half a dozen different things."

Another measure, Proposition 38, which would increase income taxes for most Californians to raise money primarily for schools and early childhood education, has confused some voters and diluted support for Brown's plan.

To save his measure, the governor has spent recent days rallying voters across the state, particularly young ones whose future he said is most at risk.

On Saturday, he focused on Latinos. He teamed up with Assembly Speaker John PĂ©rez (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles). Also by his side was Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

"Vota si a la 30!" he said in broken Spanish, holding up a campaign sign featuring a bright red teacher's apple.

Later, he toured the market, bought a bean and cheese burrito and stopped to shake hands and pose for photos with Latino children.

Outside, the "yes" effort continued as groups marched in the street and knocked on doors to alert voters.

Several thousand volunteers with California Calls for Action Fund, a statewide voter outreach network, campaigned in 23 counties including Los Angeles, San Diego, Kern, Santa Clara and San Francisco. They hoped their outreach would make the difference in what's expected to be a close election.

"We're going to keep working hard," said Anthony Thigpenn, chairman of California Calls. "There are potential trigger cuts that are going to devastate the education system, so it's important that voters know what's at stake."

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com


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Santa Monica Bike Center pushes pedaling for commuters

By the time Barry Balmat showed up at the Santa Monica Bike Center, he had already compiled a laundry list of reasons why biking to work might not work.

The Santa Monica resident lived just two miles from his office, but the thought of pedaling just feet from passing cars without a shell of protection was "a little anxiety inducing," he said. Then there was the question of how exactly to make left turn. And he wasn't sure whether he'd need to shower.

But the bike center's offer of a free, well-equipped bike for two weeks was simply too good to pass up. And like so many of the program's guinea pigs, Balmat said his worries faded after only a few days on the streets.

"I got to the point where I didn't really worry at all," Balmat said. Now he's looking to buy a commuter bike of his own.

That's the idea behind the Santa Monica Bike Center's bike-commuter program. With the nation's largest bike-parking facility in one of the country's most traffic-clogged areas, Santa Monica officials hope that five loaner bicycles bought for just $3,500 can accelerate a national trend.

Biking in the Los Angeles area has been gaining momentum as evidenced by the estimated 100,000 participants in CicLAvia two weeks ago. Bike-share service provider Bike Nation also plans to launch a $16-million program in Los Angeles during the first quarter of 2013. The firm's goal is to add up to 400 bike stations and 4,000 bicycles around the city for members to rent and return at any station, a company spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the number of people taking two wheels to work is on the rise across the country. The League of American Bicyclists studied the 38 largest bicycle-friendly communities and found a 77% increase in bike commuters between 2000 and 2010. During the same period, researchers saw a 39% increase in bike commuting across the country.

"It's absolutely a chain reaction," said league spokeswoman Carolyn Szczepanski. "People see their neighbors riding, they see their co-workers riding, and it's the realization that 'If that person can do it, I can do it too.'"

Biking observers say only a handful of programs similar to Santa Monica's exist nationwide. Ron Durgin, general manager of the Santa Monica Bike Center, which is owned by the city but operated by Bike and Park, said his program was inspired by a Danish bike-trailer program for children he heard about at a conference in June. With funding from the city's Planning and Community Development Department, Durgin purchased five bikes and accessories. By August, riders were borrowing wheels for two-week trials with no strings attached.

Although only about a dozen riders have checked out bikes, the Santa Monica program has attracted a variety of clients. Some, like Balmat, commuted to work and loved getting the exercise. Others used the bikes to ride to the library and the grocery store. One experienced rider used the commuter bike for a more comfortable ride at CicLAvia.

Most of the bike borrowers said they are now contemplating buying their own. Brad Edwards, general manager of Helen's Cycles, which operates a store in Santa Monica, said he's seen a surge in the sale of commuter bikes, both because of the center's program and because of a general movement toward cycling in the city over the last three years.

Bike advocates say the push began when riders formed Santa Monica Spoke in 2009, becoming the first local chapter of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. A year later, the city adopted a planning document that called for increased emphasis on bicycling to address traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, among other goals.

Building off that momentum, with funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city of Santa Monica, the $2.5-million bike center opened its doors last winter about the same time Santa Monica released its 294-page Bike Action Plan.

Part of the city plan's "20-year vision" calls for at least 14% of work commuters to travel by bicycle by about 2030. About 4.4% of the city's work commuters use bikes now — up about 1% from last year, said Francie Stefan, the city's strategic and transportation planning manager.

"We believe that cycling is something people enjoy when they feel comfortable doing it and have had their questions answered," Stefan said. "We think helping remove those barriers will have an exponential effect."

With new bike programs and facilities popping up across the nation, cycling advocates see increased interest in biking from young people that could help drive a whole generation away from cars.

Two-year-old Zander Franzwa-Moody and his 6-year-old sister, Kaila, could be among them. On a recent Wednesday, they were at the bike center, continuing their informal cycling education.

Zander has been riding his small wooden scooter bike around the house and neighborhood ever since his mother, Devore Franzwa, borrowed a bike and trailer from the center in August to pedal her children to school.

The commute to 5th Street took about 17 minutes, Franzwa said — less than half the time she previously spent battling rush hour in her car. On this afternoon, she was back at the center with her kids, her husband, Sy Moody, and the wooden bike, seeking advice on buying a bike of her own.

"Whoa," Moody said, as Zander tried to mount a small blue half-bike that attaches to an adult's bike. "Let me spot you."

Zander pedaled backward for a few seconds only to conclude, "It's stuck." Having lost interest, he made a beeline back to his wooden bike, snapped on his helmet and rolled straight back to his father.

"Come on," he said poking at his dad's shoulder. "Let's ride!"

matt.stevens@latimes.com


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Man awaiting sentencing in Zoloft rape case is found dead

Written By kolimtiga on Sabtu, 27 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

Los Angeles Times

A 26-year-old rape victim stood before a subdued San Bernardino County courtroom Friday, and read a carefully drafted statement addressed to the former Westminster police detective who kidnapped and raped her two years earlier.

"I forgive you," she said, choking up.

But Anthony Orban, 33, was not there. Hours before, at 2:49 a.m., Orban was found unresponsive in his cell at the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said. He was declared dead at the scene.

His attorney, James Blatt, said he was informed that Orban hanged himself. The Sheriff's Department declined to reveal details of Orban's death, which was under investigation.

The rape victim told the court she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder for two years and lost four months of her life to shock. She criticized Orban for failing to take responsibility for his actions, alluding to his claims that he suffered a blackout allegedly induced by the antidepressant Zoloft.

"While I was trying to get past my rage and shame and feelings of worthlessness, you maintained that you weren't responsible for your actions," she read.

Orban had testified that he had no recollection of abducting the waitress from the Ontario Mills Mall, then raping her near a Fontana self-storage lot in April 2010.

Zoloft, the Iraq War veteran said, triggered hallucinations and suicidal and homicidal fantasies in the days leading up to the attack.

Experts for both sides agreed during the trial that Orban suffered some form of blackout during the attack. But clinical psychologist Craig Rath, a witness called by the prosecution, testified that it had more to due with alcohol. On the day of the attack, Orban and a friend ordered eight margaritas and two pitchers of beer while barhopping, according to evidence presented at trial.

"He was not insane," Rath testified during the sanity phase of the trial. "He understood the nature and quality of his acts and could distinguish between right and wrong."

California law considers alcohol-induced blackout voluntary intoxication, which does meet the criteria for legal insanity.

Jurors convicted Orban of kidnapping, rape and multiple counts of sexual assault. He could have faced a sentence of more than 200 years, but his sentencing was on hold while a judge looked into allegations of juror misconduct.

Superior Court Judge Shahla S. Sabet told the court Friday that she had been prepared declare no jury misconduct took place, reject a motion for a new trial and sentence Orban to 82 years to life in prison, then tack on an additional 95 years.

After court, Blatt said he and his client had no prior knowledge that Sabet was prepared to deny a motion for a new trial. Orban, Blatt said, nonetheless had a feeling it was coming and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison as a convicted sex offender and a former police officer. Blatt said he last spoke to Orban about a month ago.

"All of us knew" suicide "was a possibility," Blatt told reporters outside court. "But when it happens it is a shock."

Retired Salvation Army Maj. Bill Nottle said he saw Orban on Thursday afternoon. He said his demeanor was what he had come to understand as normal: "very tired" due to what his actions and trial imposed upon his family.

After the victim spoke, Blatt told her and the court that the Orban family is "truly sorry" for their relative's actions and that they have been praying for her. Blatt added that Orban had expressed to him his "great remorse and shame for his actions."

Outside court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Debbie Ploghaus said that Orban took the "easy way out," and made the day in court about him, when it should have belonged to the victim, who was scheduled to read her statement.

Standing in front of a group of reporters on the second floor of the Rancho Cucamonga courthouse, the rape victim said she felt sorry for Orban's family after hearing the news, but also that "it felt good" to express her feelings and forgive Orban.

Still, she yearned for more.

"I really wanted to tell him myself," she said calmly. "That would have been the ultimate closure."

andrew.khouri@latimes.com


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Former executioners share their misgivings about death penalty

Ron McAndrew, a former prison warden, said he began to have doubts about the death penalty after seeing flames dance from the head of an inmate strapped into Florida's electric chair.

"There was no way I could stop the execution," said McAndrew, who was in charge of the electrocution that night in 1997. Smoke and a putrid odor filled the death chamber as the witnesses outside watched, agape. "I had to let it go on for 11 minutes."

McAndrew, 74, was one of two former executioners who came to California this week to tell tales from the death chamber during a four-day tour of some of the state's most conservative communities: Riverside, Bakersfield and Fresno.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty sponsored the tour of churches and college campuses as Californians prepare to vote on Proposition 34, next month's ballot measure to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

McAndrew, speaking in an interview Friday before an appearance at Cal State Fresno, said being an executioner caused him psychological problems. He said he finally sought help after seeing the dead men he executed sitting on the side of his bed at night.

Peter DeMarco, a strategist for the opposition, said the executioners' tour demonstrated that out-of-state forces were working to abolish California's death penalty. "We don't use the electric chair, and to bring that up is offensive," DeMarco said. He also noted that the targeted communities strongly support the death penalty.

Supporters of the death penalty have launched a $100,000, 10-day radio advertisement campaign to remind voters of the victims of California's 725 death row inmates. The ads say Proposition 34 would "protect the killers" and guarantee Richard Allen Davis, killer of 12-year-old Polly Klaas; Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering his pregnant wife; and Night Stalker Richard Ramirez "a lifetime of free housing and healthcare."

As the ads began airing in Southern California, Abraham J. Bonowitz, a staff member of the Washington-based anti-death-penalty coalition, traveled through the state's interior with the executioners. He said a California affiliate of the coalition requested the tour and chose communities that some believe the Proposition 34 campaign has neglected.

The executioners addressed audiences of 20 to 160 people. The coalition paid their expenses and gave each a $550 stipend for the tour, which ended Friday.

Jerry Givens, 59, who worked on Virginia's execution team, told audiences he presided over 62 executions — 25 electrocutions and 37 lethal injections — out of duty and a strong belief in the death penalty.

He said his misgivings about execution began when former Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington Jr. was exonerated. Givens had come within two weeks of executing Washington. "It would have been with me for the rest of my life," he said.

Givens said in an interview that he preferred the electric chair to lethal injection because electrocution, even with the occasional smoke and sparks, was simpler and quicker. Givens described witnessing a lethal injection in Texas, where he had gone for training: The inmate strapped to the gurney sang "Amazing Grace" and "almost completed the hymn before the chemicals kicked in and killed him."

McAndrew, who presided over three executions in Florida and shadowed five lethal injections in Texas for training purposes, insisted that the executions did not provide closure for victims.

He recalled arranging for a woman to watch the Florida execution of a man who had murdered her twin sister. She was "seething with hate" when she arrived and still seething when she left, he said.

During the appearance at Cal State Fresno, which was streamed live on the Web, the executioners expressed bitterness toward elected officials who support the death penalty but don't have to carry it out.

McAndrew, now a correctional consultant, said he believes his execution work has left him "damaged goods" and argued that other executioners also have suffered psychologically from their assignments.

"It is not right," he said, "for a government official to say ... 'I want you to go into that dirty little room and kill this guy for me so I get some votes.'"

Givens' corrections career ended when he was convicted of money laundering and lying to a grand jury for allowing an old friend, who was selling drugs, to buy cars under his name, according to published reports. Givens, now a truck driver, denied having committed any crimes. He said his own conviction caused him to worry he might have executed an innocent person.

maura.dolan@latimes.com


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Los Angeles council wants to work around the city attorney

As weeks go, this was not a great one for Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.

On Monday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a charter amendment that would strip the city attorney of the power to represent the city in civil court. The next day, a budget official called for 50 of Trutanich's staff lawyers to be laid off.

And on Friday, several City Council members mounted a campaign in support of a ballot measure that would allow the council to stop relying on the city attorney for legal advice. The measure would give lawmakers the power to hire their own lawyers instead.

Along with prosecuting misdemeanor crimes and defending the city against lawsuits, the city attorney is responsible for giving legal advice to the council and writing the laws requested by members. But Councilman Paul Krekorian complained that budget constraints have caused delays in the office's work on key ordinances. He cited an ordinance he helped get approved in late 2010 that helps local businesses seeking government contracts. It took more than a year for Trutanich to produce a final version of the law.

A top aide to Trutanich attacked the changes proposed by Krekorian, saying they would create "a whole new bureaucracy that will cost more money. "They can correct any deficiencies by fully funding the city attorney's office," said William Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy. "All they have to do is provide more resources."

The proposed changes come after years of tense relations between Trutanich and council members, who have thinned his staff through layoffs and mandated vacation days and accused him at times of overstepping.

When Trutanich was elected in 2009, he and the council got off to a "pretty rocky start," said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. But Sonenshein said the debate over how much power the city attorney should wield at City Hall is not new.

In 1999 former Mayor Richard Riordan lobbied the commissions that overhauled the City Charter to make changes that would allow lawmakers to appoint their own legal council, said Sonenshein, who served as executive director of one of the commissions. He said commissioners did not make those changes, in part because of the complications that might arise if the city attorney were stripped of certain powers.

If the mayor and the council each have their own lawyers and the city attorney continues to represent the government in other matters, Sonenshein said, the question could become: "Who is the city's attorney?"

"There is a concern down the road of not knowing who the city's voice is," Sonenshein said.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks said he supports Krekorian's proposal because the city attorney's office often takes too long to draw up revenue-generating ordinances that rob the city of potential revenue if they are not implemented quickly.

Parks, who chaired the council's Budget and Finance committee until earlier this year, said delays with ordinances are "more routine than exception."

Carter challenged that claim, saying Trutanich's office produced 245 ordinances and reports to the council last year. Rocky Delgadillo, the previous city attorney, never produced more than 200 such reports in any year, Carter said.

Parks said he doesn't view Krekorian's proposal as "stripping the city attorney of its authority" but as giving the council more latitude to seek advice.

Villaraigosa said in a statement that the city should "consider all options," including Krekorian's proposal. "This is not a personal issue," the mayor said. "It's about exploring ways to make city government work more efficiently."

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana is in the process of analyzing the mayor's proposal to take away the city attorney's responsibility of representing the city in civil court. Trutanich said in a statement earlier this week that the mayor's proposal "shows a distressing lack of imagination."

Trutanich, who ran for district attorney and lost, is now running for reelection. His opponents in the March primary include Greg Smith, a lawyer who has sued the city on behalf of police officers and firefighters, and state Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who served on the council for six years. Feuer said Friday that he understands the council's frustration with Trutanich but opposes the proposed changes. "When you have a bad employee, you don't restructure the job," Feuer said.

Trutanich has complained frequently that he has been constricted by budget cuts, which his aides say have stripped the city of 110 attorneys and 60 support personnel over the last three years. During a tense council budget hearing earlier this year, he pleaded for more funding, telling council members that without appropriate funding, his priority would have to be on defending the city against lawsuits and prosecuting criminals instead of doing the legislative work of lawmakers.

"The focus of our office is no longer service to the council," Trutanich said.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com


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D.A. candidate Jackie Lacey to return donation from convicted felon

Los Angeles County district attorney candidate Jackie Lacey's campaign has blasted her opponent, Alan Jackson, for taking campaign contributions from a convicted felon who served prison time for his role in a multimillion-dollar mortgage loan scheme in the late 1990s.

"Jackson cannot just shrug this off and say, 'I didn't know.' The fact is that it is his job to know — his most important job," the Lacey campaign said in a news release the day The Times reported that Victorino Noval, a generous donor to the Jackson campaign, was a felon.

But it turns out Lacey had gotten money from a real estate developer who was convicted on federal charges in a similar scheme.

Kip C. Cyprus, 44, and his wife each contributed $1,500 to Lacey's campaign in September.

Cyprus was arrested in 1999 as part of a widespread crackdown on fraud in Federal Housing Administration-backed loans. He pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud and was sentenced to six months of home detention, five years' probation and ordered to pay $675,000 in restitution.

Lacey's campaign consultant, Parke Skelton, said Lacey had never met or spoken to Cyprus or his wife and that Cyprus' legal issues did not come up when the campaign vetted the checks, which had been solicited by a supporter the campaign was "confident in," he said.

Skelton said the campaign would immediately return the contributions.

Cyprus said in a telephone interview that he had never met Lacey and had decided to support her because she served as second-in-command to Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who he thought had done a good job in the office. He had previously contributed to other campaigns, including those of Los Angeles City Council candidate Rudy Martinez and City Atty. Carmen Trutanich — who ran for district attorney but lost in the primary.

"I'm a prominent businessperson, and I did not make a contribution for any other purpose than the best person to fight crime," Cyprus said. "I've already paid my dues to the public and society, and I'm very active in playing my role in the community."

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's office of inspector general, Cyprus and a business partner bought properties and hired appraisers to artificially inflate the values. They would then recruit low-income buyers to buy the properties, using government-backed loans that they obtained using forged documents.

Jackson's donor, Victorino Noval, was arrested in 1997 and sentenced in 2003 to 57 months in federal prison for a scheme that also involved government-backed mortgage loans. Noval was ordered to pay more than $25 million in restitution.

Noval contributed $3,000 to the Jackson campaign. His adult sons and girlfriend contributed as well, and one of his sons gave $100,000 to the state Republican Party a day before the party spent more than $78,000 on mailers supporting Jackson. The party said the money was not earmarked.

Noval also posted pictures on Facebook of an event at his home that he described as a fundraiser for Jackson. The Jackson campaign said the event was not a fundraiser but a Cinco de Mayo party that Jackson had attended.

abby.sewell@latimes.com


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Before historic L.A. movie house is remade, it offers a last peek

Written By kolimtiga on Jumat, 26 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

It's time for a retake after 100 years in downtown Los Angeles.

The historic Tower movie theater at the corner of South Broadway and 8th Street is poised to get a dramatic new lease on life — this time as a concert venue with an indoor-outdoor bar and coffee house along 8th Street and a plush basement nightclub-style bar on the Broadway side.

The renovation will cost several million dollars and will take about a year and half, said Shahram Delijani, whose family owns the Tower and three other South Broadway theaters.

Before workers begin the makeover, however, the French Renaissance-style movie house will be open to the public one more time Saturday for a behind-the-scenes tour.

On display will be its small but opulent lobby, said to resemble a Paris opera house with its giant crystal chandelier, marble columns and a huge stained-glass window. Also on view will be the auditorium's sprawling balcony, with circa-1927 seats still equipped with wire racks on the bottom for moviegoers to stash their hats.

Higher in the back of the theater, visitors will walk through the ancient projection booth, with its built-in toilet for the projectionist and its steel safety shutters designed to automatically drop down in case the projector's hot carbon arc light ignited the flammable nitrate film.

They'll be led through basement tunnels that connect the theater's boiler room and its huge, built-in Carrier air conditioning machinery to hidden rooms under the front of the auditorium. That's where an orchestra pit and blowers that powered the mighty 216-style Wurlitzer pipe organ were located. A hydraulic lift could make the pipe organ majestically rise so organist Stephen Boisclair could accompany silent movies.

The outlines of the original stage can still be seen. Behind where the movie screen once stood is the spot where the pioneering Vitaphone sound system speakers were fitted into the theater wall.

The theater auditorium's main floor was stripped of its 600 or so seats in 1988 after film screenings were halted and plans were made to turn the Tower into an indoor swap meet.

That fell through, however, and three years later the sloping floor was evened out with plywood terraces to create a set with a ballroom dance floor for the 1992 Warner Bros. movie "The Mambo Kings." Since then the theater has been used to film movies and commercials for products such as Nikon cameras and Dr Pepper.

But those details barely touch on the Tower's history, according to experts with the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation who will lead Saturday's tours. Doors open at 10:40 a.m. The two-hour tours will be led by docents, and tickets are priced at $10 for the public and $1 for foundation members.

A 1987 spinoff of the Los Angeles Conservancy's ongoing Last Remaining Seats film-screening series, the foundation has sought to restore and sustain the Tower and 11 other movie houses that made South Broadway the entertainment center of Los Angeles from the late 1920s through the mid-1960s.

Foundation president Bill Givens said the Tower and 10 others remain intact because they have been used for film shoots, religious services and occasional screenings and live events during the last several decades. The 12th, the nearby Rialto theater, has been gutted and is slated to become a clothing store, but Givens considers it a victory that its marquee has been saved.

Movie theater historian Edward Kelsey said the Tower's roots stretch back to 1911, when an 800-seat silent movie house called the Hyman Theatre opened at 802 S. Broadway. A year later it was renamed the Garrick Theatre, and in 1921, Chicago investor H. L. Gumbiner leased the site with plans to build an office building.

Gumbiner ended up operating the Garrick for another five years, hiring future producer Hal Wallis to manage it, according to Kelsey. When Gumbiner decided to replace the boxy silent film house with a fancier, more elaborate theater wired for sound, he hired fledgling theater architect S. Charles Lee to design it.

Lee, then 26 years old, drew up the plans for the distinctive, seven-story tower that anchors the theater and gives it its name. It formed part of an ornate facade and entry. "Lee's famous for saying, 'The show starts at the sidewalk,'" said Hillsman Wright, executive director of the foundation.

The Tower's management changed several times over the years. So did its name. In 1940 it became known as the Music Hall, and in 1949 it was renamed the Newsreel. It morphed back into the Tower Theatre 1965 and showed films until it closed for good in mid-1987, Kelsey said.

Starting with the Tower, Lee designed some 400 movie theaters in the West. He died in 1990 at age 90.

"The miracle is this place has been taken care of over all these years," Wright said.

bob.pool@latimes.com


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Independent spending pours into California congressional races

Democratic congressional candidate Jay Chen couldn't begin to match the nearly $2.5 million raised by longtime Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), whom Chen is challenging for what is widely regarded as a safe GOP seat.

But a little-known group called America Shining recently started spending money — more than $610,000 so far — to oppose Royce and help Chen, drawing attention to the race in ways the Chen campaign couldn't afford. The outlay by the 3-month-old America Shining, whose only donor is Chen's brother Shaw, is a fraction of the nearly $42 million in independent spending poured into unusually competitive California congressional races this year.

More than half that amount has gone to just three of the state's 53 districts.

In some cases, such as Chen's, the independent spending has nearly matched or exceeded what the candidates have raised. The growth of such spending was largely enabled by federal court decisions that eased restrictions on unlimited donations for or against candidates — as long as the giving is not coordinated with the campaigns. The new rules have changed the political landscape across the nation.

The influence of independent spending is especially strong in California, experts say. The nation's biggest congressional delegation has 10 competitive races this year that will figure strongly in the parties' battle for control of the House, in part because of new political maps that resulted in fewer sure bets for either party.

"We've got an arms race going on, and clearly there is a lot at stake," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. She added that her organization is especially concerned about aspects of the rules that in some cases allow the identity of contributors to remain hidden.

The Sacramento-area battle between Republican Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River) and Democrat Ami Bera is among the House races that have drawn the most outside money: more than $7.3 million. Two other California contests have each attracted more than $6.9 million in external spending.

A chunk of the money has come from the political parties. But in the Inland Empire, the National Assn. of Realtors' political arm has made its biggest investment — more than $2.1.million to support Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) over fellow Republican Bob Dutton.

"You need to spend money to have your voice heard," said Scott Reiter, managing director of the Realtor PAC.

Groups affiliated with GOP operative Karl Rove, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, environmental groups and labor unions also are active in California this year.

"It seems clear from the trends over the last month or so that outside groups have realized that $1 million may have more punch spent in a House or Senate race than on the presidential level," said Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine professor who specializes in elections law. "Dropping that much money can really give a candidate who's behind a fighting chance.''

Records show the vast majority of the spending fights rather than supports candidates, adding to the heap of negative ads popping up in tough matchups. Among those is a race in San Diego County, where port official Scott Peters, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad).

Independent spending in that contest has surpassed $7.1 million, almost half to undermine Peters and slightly less to oppose Bilbray.

"It definitely makes the tone far more negative," said MaryAnne Pintar, spokeswoman for the Peters campaign. "And it causes a great deal of skepticism on the part of the voters, because they don't know what to believe."

And the prohibition against outside spenders coordinating with candidates' campaigns concerns many strategists, who say groups wanting to be helpful can actually hurt their favored candidates with conflicting messages or ads so negative against opponents that they turn off voters.

"It's pretty hard for a candidate to break through all that negative messaging," said Dave Gilliard, a Republican consultant in Sacramento. Suddenly "everybody is a scoundrel."

"The candidates aren't responsible for their own campaigns anymore," said Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who is running the campaign of Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) against Republican challenger Abel Maldonado in Santa Barbara County, where independent spending is exceeding $2.5 million. "It's all this three-dimensional chess that's going on, with all these outside groups."

Some consultants have an additional worry: that campaigns may be illegally consorting with outside groups. Complaints alleging collusion have been filed with the Federal Election Commission in at least three California races, including Chen's in a district that spans parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Gilliard, who is overseeing Royce's reelection campaign, said it strains credulity to think the Chen brothers are not collaborating.

"They claim they don't talk to each other and coordinate things," Gilliard said. "But we don't find that believable. "

Jay Chen's campaign manager, Sam Liu, said the campaign is not coordinating with Shaw Chen. "There has been no coordination whatsoever," Liu said, citing an America Shining ad that parodies 1950s horror films in hitting at Royce. "It's certainly not like anything we would have produced ourselves."

jean.merl@latimes.com

richard.simon@latimes.com

Merl reported from Los Angeles and Simon from Washington.


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Downey police question man in shootings that killed three

A man matching the description of the gunman who shot five people — killing three and critically wounding two — was being questioned Thursday night by Downey police.

Two other men and a woman who had been detained and questioned in connection with Wednesday's shooting rampage have been released, Lt. Dean Milligan said at an evening news conference. Police recovered a vehicle stolen from one of the victims by the gunman.

The three people killed were identified as Josimar Rojas, 26, of Downey; Irene Cardenas, 35, of Cudahy; and Susana Perez-Ruelas, 34, of Downey, police said.

In a statement, Downey police said they had "developed information that led to the detention of an adult subject matching the description of the suspect involved in the fatal shooting." The man, whose name has not been released, "is currently in the process of being questioned."

The shootings shocked residents in the southeast Los Angeles County city. Police said that they do not know the motive for the attack, but that it was "targeted" and "not a random act of violence."

The violence unfolded shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday, when a man entered United States Fire Protection Services on Cleta Street, police said. The attacker killed Rojas and Cardenas and wounded another woman; she remains hospitalized.

Family members of some of the victims said Thursday that the shooting was the result of an attempted robbery of a black 2010 Camaro advertised for sale on Craigslist.

One person close to the family said the shooter showed up at the business and demanded the keys to the car. When a female family member working at the business refused, she was shot and wounded. Two others in the building, a man and woman, were shot and killed, the family member said.

Immediately following that shooting, the person said, another family member and her 13-year-old son stopped by the business on their way to a dentist appointment. The suspect forced them to drive him in a Chevy truck to the family's home to get the keys to the Camaro. After retrieving the keys, the gunman shot and killed the woman and wounded the son, the person said.

Authorities say they have yet to confirm details of the attack and could not confirm whether the shooting was related to the potential sale of the Camaro.

Police initially said that all of the shooting victims were related, but people identifying themselves as family members have told various media outlets that at least one of the victims was not related to the rest.

Downey police said Thursday that they were working to locate other family members and residents of the house, which property records show is in foreclosure.

The shootings turned the normally quiet street into a chaotic scene. Witnesses described seeing the wounded 13-year-old boy running out of the house, screaming hysterically, and another woman sitting outside the business, bleeding from the head.

On Thursday, neighbors and friends placed candles and flowers in a small memorial outside the family home. Many said they're searching for a reason for the attack.

richard.winton@latimes.com

wesley.lowery@latimes.com


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Nearly 160 civilian workers in LAPD may be laid off

Nearly 160 civilian Los Angeles Police Department employees could be laid off by Jan. 1 in a plan by City Hall to address its budget deficit, according to an internal department website posting obtained by The Times.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said jobs targeted for elimination under a previous proposal from City Hall are one police administrator III, 10 secretaries, 81 senior clerk typists, 66 clerk typists and a nutritionist.

"I know this is a very stressful time for all and I want to avoid rumors and miscommunication, which can only increase the stress level," Beck wrote in the post. "Therefore, as I did in the spring during budget hearings, I have directed the Office of Administrative Services to keep everyone updated on a weekly basis until there is a resolution."

While department officials would seek to work on "any and all possible solutions and outcomes," a final decision on the layoffs will be made by Dec. 14, Beck wrote.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents 10,000 officers, is waiting to see what the City Council does with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's request but said it was "concerned about how the work will be done because any delays in the 'support function' will definitely affect the ability of officers to respond to law enforcement issues impacting residents and businesses in Los Angeles."

Officials said there have been discussions about alternatives to the civilian employee cuts at the LAPD, including deferring raises or pay cuts among the various city unions. If that does not happen, Cmdr. Andy Smith said the impact would be hard for the department to absorb.

"These are folks who are part of our LAPD family," Smith said Thursday. "We all hope the city can find some alternative solution so we don't have to lose these valuable police employees."

Earlier this week, the city's top budget advisor, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, urged the Los Angeles City Council to follow through on more than 200 employee job cuts tabled earlier this year and recommended including 50 lawyers in the city attorney's office on the list.

He argued that more cost-cutting was necessary, in part, because the city already has a $16.6-million budget shortfall four months into its new fiscal year. That gap will grow wider if 209 city jobs are not eliminated by Jan. 1, the budget advisor said Tuesday.

Representatives of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich have issued their own response to Santana's proposal. Trutanich senior deputy William Carter sent employees an email Wednesday promising to fight the cuts, which he described as an "outrageous and short-sighted attack" on the office.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com


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Suspect held in fiery attack on man

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 25 Oktober 2012 | 12.56

A parolee with a lengthy criminal history has been arrested in connection with a Molotov cocktail attack that left a 54-year-old man critically burned in Long Beach, authorities said Wednesday afternoon.

Jacob Lagarde, 27, a Long Beach resident with a history of drug and violent offenses, is suspected of throwing the fire bomb at the man as he sat outside a store in the 200 block of West Pacific Coast Highway on Friday evening, police said at a news conference. Lagarde was taken into custody Tuesday night and was described by police as an affiliate of a street gang.

A relative of the victim told The Times that the family was happy an arrest had been made. Police told family members that the suspect lived in the same apartment building as the victim, according to the relative.

The attack horrified bystanders, who saw the man screaming as flames engulfed his body, and shocked city officials, who pledged to pursue all leads to find the attacker.

The assailant ran up to the victim and threw an object that exploded into a bright ball of flames, according to a surveillance video released by police. The attacker quickly fled.

Witnesses told The Times this week that they saw the attacker as he used a cigarette lighter to ignite a bottle with a flammable liquid and toss it toward the victim, whom they knew as Raul. Police have not released his full name.

"The bottle broke near Raul's neck, and the gasoline spread all over his body," Berta Salcedo said.

Raul was engulfed in flames as he ran wildly in the parking lot of the market and bystanders tried to help, according to Salcedo.

"I was shocked," she said. "People were telling him not to run because they were trying to help him put out the flames."

Gregorio Valdivia, 58, who was waiting for his wife, heard screaming and turned to see a man on fire.

Valdivia said he ran to Raul while removing his shirt, which he used to help put out the flames.

"The first thing I did was remove his jacket," Valdivia said. "I couldn't remove his pants, so I started tearing pieces of it off."

Sgt. Aaron Eaton said Wednesday afternoon that investigators had not determined a motive for the attack. He said police were planning to submit the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office but were still seeking additional witnesses.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Long Beach Fire Department arson hotline at (562) 570-2582.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com


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Man whose false report led to police shooting won't be charged

The L.A. County district attorney's office will not charge a man with involuntary manslaughter after he falsely claimed he was robbed at gunpoint, setting off a chain of events that ended with an officer fatally shooting a college student.

Pasadena police shot and killed unarmed 19-year-old Kendrec McDade on a narrow street in the city's northeast section March 24 as he was being chased by an officer and his path blocked by a police car.

Prosecutors found that Oscar Carrillo lied when he said he was robbed at gunpoint by McDade, but the lie just "was one in a series of acts ... that culminated in the fatal shooting," the prosecutor's report said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Goodwin said McDade's decisions to run from police and eventually dash toward a police vehicle blocking his path were significant intervening factors and not a "foreseeable consequence of Carillo's 911 call."

Moments before McDade was fatally shot, Carrillo had called 911, alleging that two men had stolen his laptop computer on Orange Grove Boulevard and that he was robbed at gunpoint. McDade was eventually shot as he ran toward the police vehicle, clutching the right side of his waistband, Goodwin wrote in a report.

Goodwin wrote that when confronted with a surveillance video of the theft, Carrillo admitted that the men never confronted him, that the computer was stolen from his car and that he never saw a gun.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Pasadena police arrested Carrillo, saying that his statements had led to the fatal shooting.

"Mr. Carrillo emphatically indicated a gun was involved ... that is very important. It sets the platform for the mind-set of the responding officers," Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez told reporters.

But Goodwin found that a charge of manslaughter was not supported by the evidence. The district attorney's office has referred the case to Pasadena city prosecutors for a criminal charge of misdemeanor filing of a false police report.

McDade's family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and the police officers. The Police Department has said McDade was holding his waistband at the time of the shooting, and the officers involved say they believe he was going for a weapon.

McDade was shot at point-blank range by one Pasadena police officer and handcuffed after being struck by a total of seven bullets, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's office autopsy report.

richard.winton@latimes.com


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3 family members killed, 2 wounded in Downey shooting attack

Five members of a Downey family were shot — three fatally — in a bizarre series of events that started at the business they owned and ended at their home a few blocks away.

Authorities said they don't know the motive for the attack and said they are searching for the gunman, who allegedly fled in a 2010 black Camaro stolen from one of the victims.

Witnesses described seeing family members wounded and bleeding outside both properties, including one woman who appeared to be shot in the head.

"The family was targeted for a specific reason," Downey police Lt. Dean Milligan said. "But we don't know what that reason was yet."

Detectives are now looking at surveillance tapes from around the area in the hope they can shed light on what happened.

The first sign of trouble came at 11:12 a.m., when someone called 911 about a shooting at the business, United States Fire Protection Services. When officers arrived three minutes later, they found a man and a woman dead and another woman wounded.

At 11:17 a.m., police received a second call from the home of the business owner, about two blocks away, in the 8500 block of Cleta Street. There, they found another dead woman and a wounded 13-year-old boy.

The boy told police he didn't recognized the gunman, Milligan said. The shooter was described as a 30-year-old black man about 6 feet tall and 230 pounds. He was last seen in the Camaro, which had the license plate 6LEA010.

Grace Mendez said she saw the teenager near the business as she drove down Cleta Street.

"He was screaming, 'Oh my God, oh my God!" Mendez, 33, said. "And then I saw that he was shot in the shoulder blade and stomach."

Police tried to help him, Mendez said, adding: "He had gone into complete shock." She also saw a woman sitting on a cement wall, bleeding from her head.

A woman who works near the business said she heard a heard a helicopter and went outside, where she saw one of the business owners on his knees, crying.

"He told me his mom got shot in the head and the bullet came out," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

As news of the shooting spread, worried family members hurried to the business, desperate for answers.

"My wife works in there!" yelled a man in a white T-shirt who approached the police tape about 1 p.m. "I need to know if she's OK!"

Residents and business owners said they were shocked by the violence. They described the area as safe and the family as hard-working, owners who would lock the front door of the business even if they were inside.

Blanca Parker said one of the reasons she moved her copier company to Cleta Street was because she had been told the area was safe. A Coca-Cola bottling plant across the street "has cameras everywhere," she said.

"I'm at a loss for words," Parker said. "Everyone figured nothing bad would ever happen over here."

Art Portillo lives directly behind Cleta Street near the house. The 60-year-old retired building inspector said the neighborhood was quiet and he never saw any signs of trouble.

"I have never heard anything," he said. "That's why we moved here. This is so quiet you can hear a pin drop."

wesley.lowery@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

andrew.khouri@latimes.com

Times staff writers Kate Mather and Richard Winton contributed to this report.


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