Monday, November 3, 2008

Bailing Out Los Angeles Children
By Gabriel Buelna

If you are planning to vote tomorrow, you have probably never seen so many diverse initiatives. From high speed rail, to anti-gay marriage rhetoric, we are being asked to decide on a lot that will affect us for generations. While this election season is historic at the presidential and state levels, at the local level, generation changing initiatives are in front of us. This is why I respectfully request thirty seconds of your time to discuss Measure Q.

Measure Q asks voters for an additional $7 billion in bonds for the renovation, modernization, construction, and expansion of LAUSD school facilities. Since 1997, 72 new schools have been constructed, with another 58 slated for construction. While this is an important step for the education of our children, it is important to remember that for decades, no new schools were built within LAUSD.

For decades, hundreds of thousands of children were forced to take busses to schools far from their homes. These children had their lives disrupted as they spent hours a day staring out bus windows, wondering why nobody cared enough to build quality schools in their neighborhoods. In fact, this is and was tantamount to child abuse. This new bond keeps our children off buses and where they belong – in quality schools close to home.

We all like oversight and Measure Q has it. This initiative will have a Citizens’ Oversight Committee which will include the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and taxpayers who are concerned about our children’s schools. The reality is that none of us wants to pay more and we know our government can do better. Some of us might be looking at our shrinking 401K plans and saying “enough is enough.” We all know the economy is getting worse and we don’t know what will happen. That being said, every single one of us believes in the universal truth that our children are the future. When our children have better education, we all have a better future.

This is why in a time of economic uncertainty and hardship, I ask you to support a better future for our children. Vote for better schools and better education for our children. Vote “Yes” on Measure Q.

Gabriel Buelna, Ph.D., MSW is Executive Director of Plaza Community Services in East Los Angeles and a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge. You can visit his blog at

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vice-President Clinton-A Humble Opinion

By Gabriel Buelna

While I do not believe that presumed Democratic nominee Barack Obama really knows who his vice-presidential nominee will be, if ever there was a time to give an opinion on the matter, it is now. Who knows, someone may actually be listening.

The choice for President of the United States is perhaps one of the most important choices that will affect each American in recent years. From health care, national security, spending on roads, mass transit and negotiating for peace throughout the world, most Americans generally believe in the same goals. It’s the specifics we get caught up in.

As Americans, we know this too well from the 2000 election, determining the direction of the War on Terror and Iraq, to a non-existent energy policy that continues to affect our pockets each day. Presidents matter! This is why the 2008 election will determine the type of fuel we use in our cars, the types of jobs available to us and our children and the next war we fight. For those that disagree with the current administration, electing Senator Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States is the strongest protest to the policies of the current administration.

For many of us that supported Senator Hillary Clinton, supporting Senator Obama is easy. For others, however, supporting Obama is not so easy. Senator Obama faces the obstacles of his youth and the unspoken, de facto racism that may not show up in the polls. This is similar to the obstacle of sexism that Senator Clinton faced when she was a candidate. Some people wouldn’t vote for her because she is a woman as some will not vote for Senator Obama because he is African American. As sad as this reality is and writing these words makes me, this reality exists.

While Senator Obama has some good choices for running mates, he needs a candidate that does not need explaining. He needs a candidate that will motivate women to overwhelmingly come to the polls. The Democratic Party needs to seize the once in a lifetime opportunity to put forward two historical candidates to win a once in a lifetime election.

Without Senator Clinton on the ticket, Senator Obama wants us to believe his wit, charm and qualifications are enough to win. Essentially tied at the polls with both political party conventions still to occur, Senator Obama has the responsibility to the next generation not to take any risks which could cost him the election. To lose without Senator Clinton would mean eternal “what ifs” for the young Senator. What ifs are bad news for such an inspiring candidate. Yes, he will have to put up with Bill Clinton. So what? Be a hero to us all and buy President Clinton a round of golf and get on with your historical responsibility of being the first African American President who had the courage of telling every little girl watching television, including my own three, that “Yes you can.”

Gabriel Buelna, Ph.D., MSW is Executive Director of Plaza Community Services in East Los Angeles, a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge and co-founder of The Nonprofit Network You can visit his blog at

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Trusting LA British Food Invasion
By Gabriel Buelna

If you’ve driven through Glassell Park in Northeast Los Angeles lately, you’ll notice a new supermarket going up. With a new parking lot and fresh paint, it looks nice. It even has a nice name; the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market. After surviving the bruising supermarket strikes of a few years back, who could argue with a new supermarket with such a nice name.

Not so fast! Not having heard of Fresh & Easy, I decided to do a bit of research about the new store and found out more than I bargained for. Fresh & Easy is actually a subsidiary of Tesco. For those of you that haven’t heard of Tesco, it’s the third largest food retail company in the world after Wal-Mart. The company is in twelve countries, has 31% of the market share in Britain, with plans to open 100 stores in the United States. Essentially, while the name of the store is Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, its not really a “Neighborhood Market” at all. It’s a multinational corporation selling food. Not necessarily bad, just not a “Neighborhood Market.”

Should Fresh & Easy Sign a Community Benefits Agreement Before Opening? VOTE HERE!

On the face of it, who cares? Good luck to Fresh & Easy and let the free market decide if it survives. As we all know, if costumers don’t like the store, they won’t go back. Simple, right? The only problem with the philosophy is that while we have a free market system, we also have a thing called “Civil Society” that is also free to voice its concerns.

Those of us who supported supermarket workers a few years ago wanted our local stores to remain open; we just wanted workers to receive a fair wage. We wanted access to fresh fruit and vegetables at a fair price, with the understanding that those preparing the food had living wages and adequate insurance. Many of us knew we didn’t want Wal-Mart and the low wages that are associated with it.

The entire discussion about supermarkets in Los Angeles is complex. While we’re a large metropolitan city, a good amount of our urban landscape doesn’t have access to supermarkets. Many working class communities have local stores with more expensive products, which may or may not be of similar quality. For years, communities have pleaded with officials to encourage stores to open in these communities. Pandering to our hopes, Fresh & Easy has promised to do just that. Open new grocery stores in working class neighborhoods that serve fresh, organic produce at reasonable prices. While this sounds great, the company’s history doesn’t necessarily show a willingness to follow through on its promises.

According to an Occidental College report, of the 98 stores identified as future Tesco store sites, only a paltry 10% of the stores are in high poverty, low income areas. The company also plans to depend on a part time workforce and is refusing to meet with community and labor groups about fair wages. Essentially, Tesco and Fresh & Easy want the right to claim high paying jobs and quality foods in working class neighborhoods, without actually doing so.

When pressed, Tesco asks the community to trust it. No, that won’t happen, the vital services and quality of jobs this industry can provide is too important. Will Tesco trust us to pay our groceries later? Of course not.

In order to attempt to guarantee fair wages and quality food, neighborhood groups have requested Tesco meet to discus a Community Benefits Agreement. These agreements are designed to help local communities receive many of the jobs that will be offered and to make sure those jobs pay a fair wage with medical benefits and all the other good stuff. The agreements also nudge Tesco to open more stores in communities they promise to serve. It shouldn’t be a big deal for Tesco to simply sit down at the table and say, yes, I will pay a living wage, I will offer medical coverage for workers and their families, I will offer the highest quality food, and I will open supermarkets in working class neighborhoods as promised. These are statements the company has made in public, now put it in writing.

What do you think?

Should Fresh & Easy Sign a Community Benefits Agreement Before Opening? VOTE HERE!

Gabriel Buelna, Ph.D., MSW is Executive Director of Plaza Community Services in East Los Angeles and a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge. You can visit his blog at

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Columbus and Indian Skin-Lightening Cream
By Gabriel Buelna

This past week marked the 515th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Western Hemisphere. Columbus is a historically divisive figure. Some view him as a great explorer, searching for new routes to India and bringing riches to the Old World. Others hold him responsible for the destruction of societies by introducing racially based systems where skin color determined everything. With memories of Columbus long gone from my mind, it was not until a news story about an Indian skin-lightening cream that I was inspired to write about him.

A few weeks back, I saw a news story about Indian Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan selling a skin-lightening cream called Fair and Handsome. The commercial revolves around a young man with dark skin who's having difficulty attracting girls. After some coaxing, the young man agrees to the skin-lightening treatment. Upon completing the treatment, the actor becomes lighter and suddenly attracts girls. The commercial ends with everyone smiling.

Read and Watch BBC News Story HERE

After watching the commercial, I was shocked, in disbelief and overall dismayed. It reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode where aliens arrived on earth and had a book called To Serve Man. Except it wasn't a book to help humans, it was a cook book. The Bollywood commercial was well made and probably did a good job of selling its product. However, it did so at the expense of an Indian society that lived under British dominance for 500 years and only recently became independent.

While nations in years past could act independently and with little outside scrutiny of how they treated their populations, that era is over. India can not consider itself part of the modern world and want a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and allow products such as Fair and Handsome to flourish. The irony is that the Indian government should not exercise its powers to take this commercial and product from the shelves of New Delhi supermarkets. Indian civil society has the responsibility to police itself and send the message that this sort of product is not acceptable.

While the British colonized India, not Spain, the results are the same. Former British and Spanish colonies for hundreds of years suffered under systems where skin color determined your fate. Weird names such as Zambo and Mulato defined racial mixtures with the ultimate akin color being pure European white. The Indian Fair and Handsome skin-lightening cream plays on Indian historical racial fears and reminds us of our own pre-Civil Rights era that with every passing day becomes a long ago, sometimes forgotten memory.

So why do we care about an Indian skin-lightening cream? After centuries of our own racially divisive systems, the Indian product reminds us that while the world economy has become efficient and indeed flat, our world social systems are still centuries behind and outdated. The sad reality in America and societies throughout the world is that skin color still matters significantly. While the subject is taboo and no one will admit it, the news article about an Indian skin-lightening cream is a good opportunity for each of us to contemplate our own hypocrisies and indoctrinated racism. Columbus would probably not believe his birthday would be used as a day to reflect on our biases in the hopes of reigning in centuries of racial intolerance.

Gabriel Buelna, Ph.D., MSW is Executive Director of Plaza Community Services in East Los Angeles and a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge. You can visit his blog at

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

LAUSD-Public Service or Sacrifice?

LAUSD-Public Service or Sacrifice?
Decision Affects Education Reform Across State and Nation for Years

By Gabriel Buelna

Los Angeles School Board members earn $26,000 per year – on a part time basis. Each School Board member, charged with the responsibility of preparing our children for the future, makes $25 per hour if they work 20 hours per week. If a Board member works a 40 hour week, which many do, they earn $12.50 per hour. This past March 6th, voters in Los Angeles finally said enough is enough. Angelinos selected Measure L as the vehicle to increase the salaries of the School Board members. Voters sent a message that a $6.2 billion operating budget and over $18 billion in construction of new schools was too large for a part-time board. Pursuant to Measure L and the demands of voters, The Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee was formed to create a reasonable salary structure for LAUSD Board members as full-time employees. The Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee failed.

As a father of three LAUSD daughters, like many, I voted for Measure L without doing much research. I simply wanted my children to have better schools and I wanted to make sure the School Board would represent children and parents, not special interests. Therefore, I was honored to be appointed by Los Angeles City Councilmember Eric Garcetti to the Compensation Review Committee. Once appointed to the Committee, I was chosen to Chair the Committee. I have witnessed first hand how the Compensation Review Committee failed to provide an adequate salary for Board members and have effectively nullified the voters’ mandate of March 6th.

For two months, the committee listened to testimony about the duties of School Board members. We listed to former School Board member and current Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar describe the importance of meeting with parents, youth and community members about schools. Former School Board President Genethia Hayes described the need for a full-time Board to tackle the bureaucracy at LAUSD. She described constituents demanding to speak with her, principles, nonprofit organizations wanting and demanding her attention. She described representing LAUSD local, regionally and nationally on education issues. Councilmember Huizar and Ms. Hayes described the School Board member’s job as one that was much more than full-time.

The Committee made two salary decisions – one for full-time Board members and one for part-time Board members. The Committee decided that Board members who elected to remain part time would continue to receive $25,000 annually. I agreed to this amount as this action was being taken in the middle of an election cycle. In a startling move, however, the Committee prohibited School Board members from earning any outside income. After reviewing data and listening to testimony about creating a full time position for School Board member, the Committee, with my dissent, agreed to tie the full time salary of School Board members to a nine month LAUSD teacher salary of $46,000. Here, again, School Board members are not allowed to earn any outside income.

The Committee’s decision was made without a single member of the public present. No public input on the matter was considered. In fact, the biggest loser in this entire process is the public. Voters elected for an initiative that would guarantee full-time work and full-time pay for Board members. The public did not and does not want outlandish wages for public officials. The Los Angeles Unified School District has salaries ranging from $20,000 to $300,000 per year. During the Compensation Committee’s meetings, the highest recommendation for School Board members’ salaries was between $60,000 and $90,000. This amount is sufficient to have Board members work full time without the need for outside income, but not high enough to draw individuals based on salary alone.

The decision to keep part-time Board members at $25,000 and full-time Board members at $46,000 ensures that only wealthy communities will have adequate representation on the School Board. Potential candidates from working class communities will not be able to become Board members because they cannot feed their families on $46,000 per year. The Compensation Committee has ensured that the only individuals serving on the School Board are those wealthy enough to serve in spite of the Compensation Committee’s salary caps. The Compensation Committee has disenfranchised thousands of low to moderate income parents and children who will not be represented by people like themselves. The Compensation Committee has warped the Los Angeles School Board into a place where only the wealthy can survive.

As a citizen, I have never before advocated for higher salaries for elected officials. As the Chair of the Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee, however, the evidence was before me – and all Committee members. The evidence presented clearly indicated that a full-time, sufficient salary structure was needed for Board members, but the Committee ignored the evidence as well as the voters.

In the end, the Committee left behind a broken legacy that both alienates parents and children based on income and fails to provide School Board members with the financial resources to serve on the Board without unjust financial harm. The inability of the Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee to fix this self inflicted wound ensures that being a LAUSD Board member is a public sacrifice, not a service. While some may view this as simply a Los Angeles issue, the lack of forethought by this Committee will only mean school boards’ across the state and nation will only be able to give education a part time focus. How can this be right?

Gabriel Buelna, Ph.D., MSW was the Chair of the Measure L Compensation Review Committee. He is also Executive Director of Plaza Community Services in East Los Angeles and a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge. You can visit his blog at

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