Wednesday, September 7, 2022

NLMUSD approves change electing school board by districts

In an attempt to avoid costly litigation, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District board has elected to change to a system of electing its members by district.

The move was triggered by a demand letter from an attorney stating that the district's method of electing its board members from votes submitted from across the entire district may violate the California Voters Rights Act 

Enacted in 2002, the CVRA bans any election system that impairs a minority group or protected class from influencing the outcome of an election by diluting their votes.

The placed the board into the position of either paying out millions to defend an at-large system with little hope of prevailing and paying the plaintiff's legal costs or change to a system of district voting.

By switching to electing a board by district, legal fees are capped at no more than $30,000.  Cities and districts that have chosen to fight almost always lose and find themselves paying the other plaintiff's legal bills that can run into the millions of dollars fast.

Dozens of demand letters are sent to cities and districts each month, mostly by the same attorney, and are widely seen as a shakedown. No proof supporting the allegation is required to submit such a letter.

Instead of bowing to a demand letter, the City of Santa Monica chose to fight all the way to the state Supreme Court where it awaits a decision after spending $7-10 million defending at-large elections there.  A request for $22 million in legal fees by the plaintiffs attorney's is on hold pending a decision in the matter. 

The City of Palmdale spent $4.7 million and Whittier $1 million before each reached an agreement to end at-large elections.

The next action by the school board will be to conduct two public hearings to allow community members to make suggestions and voice concerns on the criteria that the board adopts to be used to establish the boundaries of the new districts. A demographer will use those criteria in drawing up two or more maps of proposed districts, followed by two more public hearings on the proposed maps and then another hearing to adopt the final district map.

Simply stated, the public will have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinion of what constitutes a fair district and what a map for the school district should look like.

The school district has not announced when the board will hold the initial public hearing.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

La Mirada is taking a bite out of crime

In an effort to combat the ongoing problem of catalytic converter theft, an ordinance was passed by the city council at its last meeting making it a misdemeanor to possess one of the devices in La Mirada without proof of ownership.

112 catalytic converters were reported stolen in the city in 2011 with another 58 taken through the first five months of 2022 according to a city staff report.

The devices can run $2,000 or more to repair and replace and currently have no serial numbers engraved on them making it difficult to tie a specific converter to a specific theft. 

Legislation is pending in the California legislature mandating a vehicle identification number be engraved on each device before sale or purchase.

Persons suspected of violating the ordinance will be given a chance to present evidence to deputies when first contacted or to detectives that are investigating the case that they lawfully possessed the devices by showing proof of ownership in a number of ways.

A few examples proving ownership can include presenting a bill of sale from the original owner, documentation from an auto body shop or scrap yard that the original owner relinquished the catalytic converter, and photographs showing the vehicle and VIN number that the converter came from.

Violations of the ordinance are a misdemeanor and are punishable by up to 6 months in the county jail, a fine of as much as $1,000, or both.

The ordinance is just one of several tools the city council has approved recently for use by deputies to combat crime in the city which is up a modest 7.93 through July of this year compared to the same time period in 2021.

During the same meeting, final approval was given for the purchase and installation of a 10-camera 'Automatic License Plate Reader' (ALPR) system.

ALPR reads the license plate of each vehicle passing by one of its cameras snapping a photo and detecting and recording unique specifics about it including the color, the model, date, and time while simultaneously checking a database of wanted vehicles.

Deputies will be alerted if a vehicle in near real-time, if that vehicle has been reported stolen, used in a felony, or is associated with a person is missing passes a location where ALPR has been deployed. 

If there is a wanted vehicle hit, an image of the vehicle along with the location it was spotted and the direction of travel will appear almost instantly on the computer screens inside patrol vehicles as well as at the Norwalk Station 911 center.

The information gathered by the system is stored and can be used to assist detectives to solve crimes.  The presence of the units has also been found to deter crime.

The same system is currently in use in Norwalk, Lakewood, and Bellflower and will cost the city $20,850 a year.

The camera locations will be chosen based on recommendations from sheriff's crime analysts, detectives, and La Mirada Public Safety and can be relocated to new locations as crime trends dictate.

The system does not capture images of the occupants of a vehicle and will not be used to catch traffic violations or persons that have outstanding tickets.  

Other actions by the city council recently aimed at fighting crime include approval for an $80,000 video surveillance system for Creek Park, and increases to the Sheriff's contract that adds a fourth patrol unit on the graveyard shift and a second day shift motor deputy conducting traffic  enforcement five days a week. 

The additional patrol car overnight raises the number of deputies on patrol on the early morning shift in La Mirada to its highest level since the 1990's.