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Rick Chavez Zbur raises $254,000 for 2022 LA City Attorney race

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                   Rick Chavez Zbur (Photo by Claudia Unger, courtesy Zbur)

The November 3 election can’t come fast enough for many Americans devastated by the Trump administration’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the upending of civil liberties. But with stabilizing the economy and rebuilding the nation’s healthcare system expected to take at least a year after regime change, many in Los Angeles are looking beyond the immediate future to March 2022, when Primary elections will begin to shape a new city government.

Hopeful Angelinos envision a city government shaken free of institutionalized modus operandi and willing to tackle progressive reform by rooting out the systemic injustice that Black Lives Matter and others have been protesting for years.

On the 2022 ballot are races for Mayor, City Controller, and the odd numbered half of the 15 City Council seats, including Districts 11 and 13 now held by out Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Mitch O’Farrell, respectively. But it is the City Attorney who will be called upon to deliver advice and counsel and help develop new policies to address injustice.

Rick Chavez Zbur, Executive Director of Equality California, wants that job. While continuing to lead the organization he’s shaped and expanded since 2015, Zbur is also out sharing this vision for what he would do as the city’s top legal counsel.

And Angelinos are listening. The former senior and first openly gay partner at the famed law firm of Latham & Watkins — where he was known for his advocacy on environmental issues as president and chair of the board of the California League of Conservation Voters — Zbur has already raised $254,000 for a race that’s just under two years away.

“I am proud of my work leading the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, now more than ever. As executive director, raising the funds to continue Equality California’s important work to create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people and the diverse communities to which we belong remains my highest priority,” Zbur, who officially launched his campaign in April, tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I will continue to campaign for LA City Attorney — as I have been for the last few months — on my own time outside of work.”

Rick Chavez Zbur with his mom, Erlinda Chavez Zbur (Photo courtesy Zbur)

Political service is personal for the graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School who ran for Congress in 1996. Zbur grew up in a small farm town in the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his mother, Erlinda Chavez Zbur and her family have lived for generations.

“Growing up, my mom taught me the values of responsibility, hard work, and what devotion and love for family really means,” says the father of three who recently took his mother’s maiden name, Chavez, to honor her legacy and her 96th birthday.

Zbur is the proud co-parent of a 15-year-old daughter Shireen Valerie and twin 11-year-old sons Rafael Nikhil and Rayan Francisco(Photo courtesy Zbur)

But “family” means more than the tight circle of biology to include brothers and sisters marginalized and left behind by society. With the Equality California board, Zbur has expanded the organization’s mission to advocate for LGBTQ civil rights through an intersectional lens, spotlighting poverty, discrimination and health disparities experienced by people of color, transgender people and LGBTQ undocumented communities locally, statewide and on the federal level.

“Family” also means serving as a role model. If elected, Zbur would be the first out gay and first Latino city attorney in LA history.

“Government serves the people when government is representative of the public that it serves,” says Zbur. “LGBTQ people are not represented in proportion to our numbers in the public. It’s important because we bring a perspective that is important to government. And it’s important that LGBTQ people have role models in government, showing that you can do anything if you work hard and follow your dreams.”

Attorney Bob Burke, San Diego City Councilmember and Assembly candidate Chris Kehoe, attorney Rick Zbur, attorney Cecilia Estolano at a fundraiser for Kehoe at Burke’s house in Hollywood 2000 (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

Three years ago, Equality California hired Tulchin Research to conduct a statewide poll to gauge what percentage of California’s voters identify as LGBTQ. “We were actually surprised to find the 12% of registered voters in the state of California are members of the LGBTQ community,” a percentage not reflected in the number of out elected officials.

“My running for city attorney, advancing LGBTQ civil rights and social justice clearly will be an important priority, but I’ve dedicated my career to really advancing progressive values and focusing on work that helps improve the lives of average and vulnerable people,” Zbur tells the Los Angeles Blade.

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, California Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, Equality California’s Rick Zbur, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at Nov. 3, 2016 press conference on #Transform CA kickoff to support transgender rights. (Photo via @CityAttorneyLA twitter)

Though Zbur has great respect for Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer, “I consider myself a reform candidate,” he tells the LA Blade.

“We’re starting a new potential eight-year period with a new set of elected officials. And we’re moving into a period now where the world has changed around us,” says Zbur. “I’ll be bringing a fresh perspective that has been advised by the life I’ve lived.”

The job is exciting “because of the power this office has to reform how the city does business,” he says, starting with looking at the city’s problems and how the city attorney can provide strategic leadership in solving some of those  problems.

Zbur wants to create a “reform public policy legal think tank in the city attorney’s office,” becoming partners with the mayor and the city council rather than just respond to proposals that bubble up, “tackling many of the problems that plague our communities.”

The crisis of homelessness is a critical, personal issue for Zbur.

“LGBTQ people are probably the group that is most represented among people experiencing homelessness,” Zbur says, citing statistics from the Williams Institute and a host of other studies. “Four out of 10 homeless youth are LGBTQ. The number is almost as high among homeless adults. So 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ when we may be five to 10% of the population. That’s anywhere from four to eight times higher than our portion of the general public.”

Attorney Rick Zbur c 1996 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Los Angeles must deal with this crisis, says Zbur, who has been concerned with these issues since serving as a young attorney in the early 1990s.

“We’ve got to get outside of the boxes that have constrained making progress on it,” he says. “I think that we can address homelessness in a manner that focuses on making sure that we are trying to lift people out of homelessness, and getting them into transition services,” not just use the enforcement authority to sweep people out of areas and charge them with misdemeanor crimes.

“Think about it. You’ve got homeless folks that basically are just racking up misdemeanor, criminal records,” he says. “We need to do things like give them an opportunity to expunge their records when they get on their feet. And we need to have new laws that prevent for-profit criminal reporting agencies from reporting expunged crimes” on background checks. “Part of it is using administrative citation tools, as opposed to criminal enforcement, to get people into transition services.”

Zbur says it’s important to step back and look at all the pieces needed to make improvement happen. As city attorney, “I want to approach problems in systematic and systemic ways.”

The latest LA County homeless report did not include LGBTQ statistics.

“The fact that there’s no LGBTQ data collection happening” means, Zbur says, that “you don’t know the extent to which our community is suffering….If you’re not gathering data, you’re not counting LGBTQ people. We don’t count. We’re invisible.”

Zbur says he would use the bully pulpit of the City Attorney’s office to advocate for state laws, as well as advocating that the city begins gathering LGBTQ data voluntarily.

“Every public agency that gathers demographic data on race and ethnicity should be gathering it voluntarily on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Zbur says. “It’s important information to understand the extent to which our community is facing challenges and disparities and measures of health and wellbeing. And it’s important to understand whether public programs are meeting the needs of our community.”

LGBTQ data is needed to review police charging policies, as well.

“We’ve got many, many cases of transgender people, particularly transgender women, being arrested simply on solicitation charges for really walking around,” says Zbur, who advocates policies that “deemphasize that as a public problem.”

Photo of Rick Zbur by Claudia Unger, courtesy Zbur

Zbur says he wants to scrutinize “differential kinds of enforcement” that wind up with the city mistreating trans people, undocumented immigrants, and members of the Black and Latinx communities.

“I really want to take a new, fresh look at how charging decisions are made and really looking at reforming them and really trying to address some of this systemic discrimination that is embedded in the way our laws are enforced,” Zbur says. Anytime “you’re seeing disproportionate impacts on a particular community, then that raises a flag that you’ve got a problem.”

As City Attorney, Zbur wants to work with the police commission and the police department to do “a full scale review” of the office’s charging policies and to review “where their enforcement priorities are and take real steps to address systemic discrimination that’s embedded in our criminal justice system,” including racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia.

“Systemic problems need systemic approaches to solve them,” says Zbur. “The city attorney not only has a role in deciding whether to prosecute or defend the city in a particular case, it can look at the policies that guide all the city’s actions.”

For more on Zbur’s campaign, including endorsements, go to: https://rickchavezzbur.com/

To get a sense of Zbur, watch his remarks during the 2019 Equality California Equality Awards, celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary:

“Yes, we face threats from the White House and an administration that’s hell-bent on rolling back the progress we’ve achieved. But at every turn, we keep moving forward because we in California have a special role in leading this movement and doing so boldly. As my friend Congressman Mark Takano likes to say, ‘ We’re here, We’re queer. And we’re Californians.’ We cannot and we will not rest knowing that members of our community or the diverse communities to which we belong, don’t have full lived equality.”

 

 

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Los Angeles

Los Angeles County contract employee charged in Vaccination Card theft

Officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site

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(Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

POMONA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that a Los Angeles County contract worker was charged today for allegedly stealing hundreds of blank vaccine cards from a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Pomona Fairplex.

“Selling fraudulent and stolen vaccine cards is illegal, immoral and puts the public at risk of exposure to a deadly virus,” District Attorney Gascón said.

Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, 45, of Las Vegas was charged with one felony count of grand theft. Arraignment is set for August 25 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Pomona Branch.

On April 27, officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona. Ahmed, who worked at the center, allegedly stole more than 500 cards, which have a value of at least $15 apiece if illegally sold, prosecutors said.

In a statement, La Verne police said 528 blank COVID-19 vaccine cards were recovered in the suspect’s hotel room.

Ahmed — described by police as a non-clinical, contracted employee hired to support the Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site that at times administered nearly 4,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day — was arrested April 27. He was released the same day, according to jail records.

The case remains under investigation by the La Verne Police Department.

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Los Angeles

Pride after the pandemic, is LA’s LGBTQ community back in business?

A majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all in Los Angeles this year too.

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The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released its coronavirus pandemic metrics this week noting that Los Angeles County remains in the least restrictive yellow tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. Factoring into that is as of May 21, 50% of L.A. County residents 16 and over and 72% of seniors 65 and older are fully vaccinated. 

Then there’s the “but.’ The state isn’t scheduled to lift fully the pandemic imposed mandates until June 15, including the mask mandate which has been a point of contention. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services announced Monday that California will require people to keep wearing masks and practice social distancing indoors until June 15 although people and businesses must adjust to the changes while the state continues its “relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic.”

The impact on Pride month in Los Angeles has already been felt as a majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all. There are notable exceptions as the Los Angeles Dodgers are hosting their annual  LGBTQ+ Pride Night at Dodger Stadium on Friday, June 11th. There will be sections set-up for vaccinated and non-vaccinated Dodgers fans and the team is also bringing back Friday Night Fireworks for the first time since 2019, set to a special mix from DJ Bowie Jane. But only fully-vaccinated fans are invited to leave the stands and watch the show from the baseball field.

LA Pride also noted that Cinespia, will host LGBTQ+ Pride Movie Night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday, June 26th. The organization also made note of its partnership with KABC 7 LA’s one-hour primetime special on June 12, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM, in a ‘best of LA Pride.’ According to a its website, the special includes Trans profiles, celebrity shout-outs, spotlights on LA Pride’s 2021 Honorees (more on that soon), a special Pride performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles from the Getty Center, and more.

But the main event, the parade, one of the nation’s oldest and largest was canceled for the second year in a row. LA Pride vowed to return in 2022. “Safety was our No. 1 priority,” said Sharon-Franklin Brown, board president of Christopher Street West, the nonprofit organization that produces LA Pride. “It takes time to put on a parade, [and] we were not sure we were going to be where we’re at now, which is this amazing space where everything is opening up.”

West Hollywood, which has been ground zero for Pride events in the region for over 50 years, like most of California went through the state-wide shutdown ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, the only event of note last year being the non-sanctioned ‘All Black Lives Matter’ protest march after the police killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed Black individuals whose deaths have drawn public attention and widespread outcry.

This year though, the city is taking a cautious approach, which in separate interviews with the Blade Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath and Councilmember Sepi Shyne both emphasized that maintaining safe standards for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors was a continuing priority and that WeHo would remain essentially in a virtual mode for Pride month.

The City’s 2021 One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival s taking place virtually/in a socially distant manner for 2021 according to a city spokesperson.

The City did receive a boost in Pride awareness with the public dedication of a street mural honoring recording artist Lady Gaga’s album Born This Way this past weekend, which has been unofficially adopted by many in the greater LGBTQ community as an anthem.

West Hollywood’s Out on Robertson and Out programs have been effect in drawing diners and retail customers although still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels.

Despite that local community leaders and businesses are worried. During the course of a non-COVID impacted Pride month, events and the massive Pride parade brings in millions of dollars, drawing tourists as well as locals. With ongoing virtual and barely no in-person events, particularly the annual parade, the ongoing pandemic economy is hurting businesses badly especially those who depend on a Pride boost.

Arguably the second largest regional Pride, in Long Beach has also been scaled back to virtual only for the most part.

There has been an independent push for Pride events including a three day concert to be held at the LA Coliseum on June 4, 5 and 6- OUTLOUD: Raising Voices, created by the award winning team of Jeff Consoletti and Artie Kenney. The series is headlined by Queen frontman Adam Lambert an according to its organizers is set to showcase extraordinary queer talent also featuring appearances and remarks by Angelica Ross, Conchita, Geena Rocero, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Valentina Sampaio, Yungblud and Whoopi Goldberg.

Downtown Los Angeles, (DTLA), Downtown Center Business Improvement District is hosting an event on June 24 at  Redline, a premier gay bar and lounge in the heart of downtown located in the Historic Core of the City. The organization announced this past week that it had lifted the COVID19 restrictions for that event.

In Santa Monica, Allies in Arts partnered with Santa Monica Pride to curate an Art Walk for Pride 2021, but aside from that no indoor in-person events are slated to occur.

As the pandemic restrictions are lifted and in addressing the ongoing effects on LGBTQ businesses in the city, a person knowledgeable of the efforts the Mayor and city officials are making, but not authorized to speak to the press, said that Garcetti’s programs outlined in his State of the City speech on the upcoming budget and his 25 million “comeback check” program to help restaurants and other small businesses pay off debt and reopen remained an overarching priority.

So for now, Pride month will be scaled back but with a sense of vibrancy for business that are able to reopen or in the case of the food and beverage and hospitality industry benefit from Pride events on a business by business basis with large scale looking to return in 2022.

Until then, the picture above of The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride.

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Los Angeles

Venice Beach targeted for clearing homeless encampments

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both Los Angeles City and County with a total of 58,936+ living on the streets or in shelters

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Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin appearing on KTLA (Screenshot via KTLA)

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin announced that “a ton of resources” are coming soon to address the homeless crisis along the Venice Boardwalk.

Bonin, whose council district 11 includes the areas of Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Sawtelle, Venice, West Los Angeles, Westchester and LAX told KTLA Friday morning that a new push to address the homeless problems in Venice Beach would soon be launched.

Last week Bonin sent a letter to his constituency writing, “I am fighting aggressively to house people so we no longer have encampments on our sidewalks, or at our parks and beaches.”

Bonin also noted; “While we step up efforts to house people, the city should conduct a feasibility analysis of whether a number of different locations, including LAX land and three beach parking lots, could be used for different types of temporary emergency shelter. I have also asked that the feasibility analysis consider whether two local parks with existing encampments could restore the bulk of recreational space to public use by designating a certain area for existing unhoused residents. In all cases, the proposed solutions would provide security, sanitation and services, and focus on getting people into housing.

These are not encampments. They are an emergency response—an alternative—to encampments, and they are temporary solutions meant to get people off the streets and into homes.”

In late March, the City cleared a massive homeless encampment in Echo Park in the Angelino Heights neighborhood adjacent to the 101 Freeway, located in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s district 13. Officials say the hundreds of people forced to leave were offered shelter, but not everyone took it according to local homeless advocates. The clearing of Echo Park brought condemnation from rights groups and grass roots activists due to the presence of heavily armed LAPD officers and what one source told the Blade was a “complete lack of operational transparency.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last month in his annual State of the City address, that he would seek to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness, as well as allocate $235 million for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, intended to help up to 100,000 households and other critical needs.

The Mayor also proposed a guaranteed basic income pilot project that would pay $1,000 a month to 2,000 to the city’s neediest households over the next year as part of a “basic guaranteed income” pilot program that he described as the biggest of any city in America.

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both the City and the County. In the city of Los Angeles there are 36,300 homeless people with a total of 58,936 in the County according to the annual Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) homeless count (2019). Over the years, homelessness has dramatically increased all over the county.

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