Up Front

Up Front

Pasadena Weekly writer Carl Kozlowski’s recent experience at Pasadena’s Huntington Hospital was reminiscent of a scene from Paddy Chayevsky’s classic satirical film “The Hospital” in which otherwise innocent patients, doctors and nurses are murdered in the course of a busy New York hospital’s normal day. They might have lived had they not been neglected to death, as Chayevsky described it.

Kozlowski believes much the same thing happened to him, only he was lucky enough to have survived the experience — and write about it.

But having lived, the 34-year-old Kozlowski now has to pay more than $1,000 for a litany of services and tests that he underwent while at Huntington’s emergency room complaining of an infected leg.

The treatment apparently had no effect, forcing Kozlowski to go to LA County/USC Hospital, where he was admitted for five days.

The rub was that, had he not sought alternative care, he might not have ever known he needed to see a doctor, because the results of his tests taken at Huntington were not reported to him until a phone call 20 days after he first stepped foot into the emergency room — three weeks after first seeking treatment. He later received a letter about his condition five days after that, on Oct. 5.

Sadly, the diagnosis was not good, compelling the medical director of the hospital’s Emergency Department to tell Kozlowski to “Please find enclosed a prescription for [anti-biotic anti-bacterial] Cipro. … Please take as directed. If you have not yet done so, you should schedule an appointment for a prompt follow-up with your physician.”

Better late than never, as the saying goes, because by that time Kozlowski had long been cured and discharged from county General Hospital.

And to boot, he found that the ER personnel who attended to him left much to be desired in his manners.

“The doctor kept cutting me off even as I was explaining why I was there, and kept commenting on my weight rather than focusing on the severe leg infection I wound up spending five days in county for,” said the 6-2, 300 pound aspiring comedian.

“It’s been an experience that would be laughable if it weren’t so upsetting.”

— Kevin Uhrich


No jail for Murphy

Stacey Jo Murphy, the former Burbank City Councilwoman arrested in July following a gangland weapons and drug trade probe, pled guilty to charges of cocaine possession and child endangerment on Dec. 22.

The 47-year-old served as Burbank’s mayor twice but quit the council in August after the drugs and guns, which spawned child endangerment charges, were found in her home.

At her latest appearance in front of Pasadena Superior Court Judge Janice Croft, Murphy agreed to undergo drug counseling and parenting classes in order to avoid facing as much as three years in prison.

She and attorney Rick Santwier of Pasadena refused to comment.

Meanwhile, the Burbank City Clerk’s Office will send out ballots Tuesday for the Jan. 24 mail-in-only special election to replace her.

Murphy’s arrest was part of a larger investigation of the deadly Vineland Boyz street gang, who police believe are responsible for the 1998 shooting death of LAPD Officer James Beyea, the November 2003 murder of 26-year-old Burbank police Officer Matthew Pavelka and the attempted murder of his partner during that incident.

Murphy’s boyfriend and former City Cab Co. owner Scott Schaffer was arrested for trading guns for drugs with gang members when police found a weapon registered to him at the home of a known gang member.

At his Glendale apartment, Schaffer, who was a Water and Power Commissioner in that city, told police he stored weapons and drugs at Murphy’s house. He has pleaded guilty to a charge of trading two guns for cocaine in the hopes of receiving only a five-year sentence, but returns to federal court in June.

Murphy, charged with child endangerment because she lives with her 12-year-old son, is scheduled to return to court on Feb. 22 to prove she has enrolled in a drug treatment program.

— André Coleman


Postcards from Venus

The European Space Agency’s Venus Express will be the first spacecraft in more than 10 years to visit the second planet from the sun, and one lucky Pasadena contest winner could watch from mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, in April.

Sponsored by the Pasadena Planetary Society, the Venus Express Art contest calls on participants to draw or paint “postcards from Venus,” or what a bird’s eye view of the planet’s surface might look like.

Venus Express will study the planet’s dense atmosphere while a camera captures images of the surface by peering through the openings in the haze.

Rules and an entry form can be obtained at www.planetary.org.

The contest ends on Jan. 13.

The Planetary Society was founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman in order to involve the public in space exploration through advocacy, projects and education. Today, the nonprofit, non-government, member-supported Planetary Society is the largest and most influential public space organization in the world, dedicated to exploring the solar system and seeking life beyond Earth.

 —André Coleman

 


Late nights, tortured prose, tiny paychecks, exhaustion, burnout — being a Weekly reporter isn’t nearly as glamorous as some may think.

 

Working at a paragraph factory does, however, come with its perks.

The best one: Each day at work is an opportunity to change the world around us.

For every moment spent wondering if anybody’s actually reading this stuff, there are just as many instances in which stories in the Weekly have made a real, tangible difference in our little universe.

Sure, not everything we write can actually be proven to have changed the outcome.

Take the war in Iraq, for example. Hundreds of stories later, a terrible situation is still terrible. But by telling stories that may otherwise go unreported, we hope our community is not only better informed, but also better equipped to take action that will ultimately provoke change.

The following, however, is a short list of some of the stories over the past year that represent what we like to call results-oriented journalism, a news philosophy that’s apparently all too uncommon in newspapers today.

Results-oriented journalism is just what it sounds like — busting bad guys, purging inequity, getting criminal charges dropped, justice prevailing. You know: another day at the office.

Thanks for being a part of it. And Happy New Year.

— Kevin Uhrich and
Joe Piasecki


The Battle over B

Back in 2001, more than 60 percent of Pasadena voters chose to adopt Measure B, a charter amendment that would make it illegal for city officials to accept campaign contributions and other gifts from those contractors, developers and others whom their decisions about public funds had benefited. Believing the new law unfairly cumbersome and unconstitutional, Pasadena City Council members refused to certify the election. Several years later, after fighting the law all the way to the state Supreme Court and spending nearly $800,000 in taxpayer funds, the city resigned itself to following the controversial law, also known — and at this point, ironically — as the Taxpayer Protection Amendment.

That all happened, though, only after the Weekly discovered that six of eight council members had already taken thousands in campaign donations that were prohibited under provisions of the controversial law. The council responded by indemnifying themselves against prosecution, and talked of replacing Measure B with a competing ballot measure next year.

Following the blistering Weekly editorial “Stop the Backroom Deal Preservation Act,” former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian demanded that council members give back any potentially illegal gains or face a lawsuit.

While one council member heeded that request, others changed their minds and voted to end opposition to the measure. The council finally decided to sort out the mess by appointing the Task Force on Good Government to examine city campaign finance laws. That body now seeks to make Pasadena election laws “a model for the state,” task force Chair and former Attorney General John Van de Kamp told the Weekly.

Too Close for Comfort

In March, more than a dozen sex offenders, many of them convicted of crimes against young children, were living in a group home less than half a mile from Pasadena’s Cleveland Elementary School and blocks from two public parks. That home, as it turned out, was also operating without a license.

Following reports by the Weekly and schools activist Rene Amy’s Greatschools Internet listserve, the house was shut down by police and city officials. While potential tragedy was quickly averted in that instance, a follow-up Weekly investigation by Andre Coleman and Joe Piasecki found that the entire state apparatus of monitoring paroled sex offenders fell short of the intent of Meghan’s Law, with state authorities failing to quickly provide accurate information to the public and local law enforcement. State Assemblywoman Judy Chu, a Monterey Park Democrat, made an attempt to improve the situation by creating a state Sex Offender Management Oversight Board, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in October.

El Sereno 3

It’s a story that began in 2003, when three teenage foster brothers got into a brawl with Pasadena police officers one evening near their El Sereno Avenue home. Police say neighbors complained about the gathering of boys, who jumped officers responding to calls. The brothers say police attacked them after the teens asked why they were being questioned. Charges were filed against all three.

Following reports by the Weekly, charges were dropped against one of the boys, while another boy received probation and had that conviction expunged from his record in May. The case of the third brother, Carlton Crayton, who has used all of this media attention for good by publicly standing with police to advocate community cooperation with law enforcement to keep neighborhoods safe and the justice system fair, is ongoing.

Schooling the schools

While many parents of children in the Pasadena Unified School District continue to clamor for change, the Weekly has done its best to keep on eye on the embattled institution our kids depend on to learn.

This year, we’ve covered stories that changed school policies, such the unsafe greasing of fences, bad behavior by coaches and a socially de-stabilizing locked-bathroom policy at John Muir High School. But we’ve also editorialized on the importance of supporting educators at the improving campus, and our news coverage provoked dozens of letters from Muir students demonstrating just how much those kids really care about their school.

In matters of elections, the Weekly endorsed a ticket of challengers promising reform, unsuccessful but for former teacher Scott Phelps, who had some ideas voters found attractive.

Just last week Justin Chapman, a 20-year-old Weekly freelance writer elected earlier this year to a seat on the Altadena Town Council, made news by successfully proposing a task force to study whether that community should form its own school district.

Speaking of elections, in 2003 underdog school board candidate Bill Bibbiani won a runoff battle after the Weekly reported concerns about his opponent’s campaign finances.

No More Mind Games

In an April 28 article about autism, Julie Riggott sent out a warning that brought a barrage of letters to the editor. While many in the media have latched on to the hot topic of childhood autism, science has, for the most part, been left out of the drama and the debate. The story “Mind Games” examined the prevalence of pseudoscience in the treatment of autism. Unfortunately, we found that so-called miracle treatments are most likely giving parents false hopes while wasting precious time better spent on proven methods of therapy.

Jane Orr Fights Again

Seven years ago, longtime Rose Bowl Executive Secretary Jane Orr accused then-General Manager Dave Jacobs, now retired, of sexual harassment. Rather than discuss a settlement, city officials battled Orr’s claims in an Alhambra court, which exonerated Jacobs. The decision crushed Orr, who had put in 37 years on the job but lost much of her benefits after taking early retirement following her harassment allegations.

Unknown to Orr, the court granted the city — which spent an alarming $750,000 in defending Jacobs rather than pay a much smaller settlement — the right to seek more than $23,000 in court costs from her. She discovered the debt in October, when it had become a lien that prevented her from refinancing her home to make ends meet.

After Weekly coverage of Orr’s new troubles, city officials cut the amount they were demanding from Orr in half and set up a payment schedule with her so she could obtain the loan and move on with her life. 

 

Up Front

An Altadena Unified School District?

With the impending closure of elementary schools in their town, Altadena officials are now considering breaking away from the embattled Pasadena Unified School District.

As PUSD Board of Education members decided unanimously Tuesday to close four elementary schools — including Noyes and Edison elementary schools in Altadena — Altadena Town Council members decided to convene a task force to investigate whether that unincorporated community should create its own school district.

“I think it would be irresponsible not to take a closer look at how the closing of these schools will impact children in Altadena,” said Altadena Town Councilman Justin Chapman, who proposed the idea of a task force and will serve as its chair.

“It’s an intriguing proposal that the council has looked at before, and one that may be beneficial,” said 20-year-old Chapman, a student at Pasadena City College and a freelance writer for the Pasadena Weekly.

Pasadena school board members decided to close Noyes, Edison, Allendale and Linda Vista elementary schools after losing more than 1,000 students this year. That decline cost the district $4 million in state funds, forcing cuts to security and other costs.

Linda Vista students currently attend classes in Altadena because repairs to that campus were stopped due to budget constraints.

While governed by the LA County Board of Supervisors, Altadena has an elected, 16-member Town Council that acts as an advisory body to Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

All 13 council members who attended Tuesday’s meeting supported creation of the task force, though some aren’t sure if it will work.

“It would be a great thing,” said veteran Councilman Steve Lamb of the idea. “The problem is there is a state law that requires school districts to pay for the care of special ed students in their district. A high number of special ed students are housed in Altadena at Five Acres and Sycamores in Altadena,” he said. “I would absolutely support [a new district] if we could get the law changed, and we could come to some type of agreement regarding those kids.”

Because of the link between enrollment and funding, any attempt by Altadena to leave the district would likely meet with heavy resistance from the PUSD.

“Obviously we would not be supportive of that,” said PUSD Assistant Superintendent George McKenna, “nor could Altadena realistically do it. The cost issues, the facility issues. … What are they missing from what we give them now?”
Answered Chapman: “At the very least two schools.”

— André Coleman


Hickambottom honored

The Altadena Chamber of Commerce has named longtime Altadena resident and civil rights advocate Dolores Hickambottom Altadena’s Citizen of the Year.

A former field deputy for state Sen. Jack Scott, 74-year-old Hickambottom helped found the Altadena Town Council and Altadena Senior Center.

She moved to Altadena in 1941 with her late husband Elbie, who served many years as a Pasadena Unified School District school board member.

— André Coleman


Bush snubs, ‘railroads’ seniors

For Pasadena senior rights activist Marvin Schachter, the 2005 White House Conference on Aging was more than a little disappointing — it was nothing short of anti-senior.

“It was a conference organized by the administration to avoid discussion of the issues,” Schachter said. “It’s a railroad.”
Conferences have occurred every 10 years since 1961 and are designed to allow seniors to draft policy recommendations for Congress and the White House.

The 2005 conference, which was Dec. 11 through Dec. 14, was different than any other in several ways, said Schachter, a delegate appointed by LA Democratic Congressman Xavier Bacerra.

In an unprecedented move, delegates were not allowed to draft, amend or defeat resolutions put before them, but were instead forced to “prioritize” pre-packaged resolutions prepared by the Bush-appointed policy committee.

“What’s extraordinary about that is the arrogance of the administration — guaranteeing that there would be no active participation by the people who had come here,” said Schachter.

— Joe Piasecki


Don’t believe Bush, says Boxer

During an event promoting her new book “A Time to Run” Sunday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium’s Little Theater, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said she was happy to have made a stand against the PATRIOT Act and that she had a hard time believing anything the Bush administration says anymore.

After being introduced by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, Boxer spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 people, covering topics including the recently disclosed Defense Department eavesdropping program and the war in Iraq.

“I’m proud to be among the senators who defeated the PATRIOT Act,” Boxer said to enthusiastic applause a day after all but two Democrats joined a handful of Republicans to filibuster the debate, effectively enabling two key provisions of the act to expire on New Year’s Day. “We can protect our homeland against terrorism without eroding our basic civil liberties. It can be done.”

Although Boxer once believed claims that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons, “Literally everything they said proved to be wrong, every single thing. Now I’m at the point where I have a very hard time believing anything they say. They think the end justifies the means. That’s dangerous,” she said.

— Justin Chapman

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