Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Regime Change



You got the job ... don't let us down!

Election Day -- Nov. 4, 2008



FREMONT, Calif. -- Would've been a better shot had I taken it five minutes earlier -- the reds were much more vivid then.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

HOA meeting at the Milpitas Embassy Suites ballroom


the vents murmur its numbing melody
it drowns us with promises of
cold comfort, teases my drench pores
with every precise mechanical shutter

silent portal -- barracuda barbwire --
i blame the cows --
shot them dogs.

big dogs as pillows at night
amend amend
annexed like france

- dewatering wells --
-- wells wells wells wells wells
wells wells wells wells wells
wells wells wells wells wells

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

'IDOL' CONTRARIAN -- SITE PROMOTES 'WORST' CONTESTANT

March 26, 2006
By Eugene Tong
Staff Writer

VALENCIA - He's ``American Idol's'' class clown - firing spitballs at the talent competition from the back of the room as if recess never ended.

From his third-floor Valencia apartment, David Della Terza runs one of the more notorious Web sites - votefortheworst.com - that grew out of Fox's top-rated TV singing contest, now in its fifth year. From his virtual pulpit, the 23-year-old rallies viewers to vote for who he believes is the ``worst'' singer on the show.

``I totally lucked into this whole thing,'' Della Terza said in an interview last week. ``We did it as a joke because we like all the bad singers.

``It's such a cheesy show - that's the most interesting part. It's like when people enjoy bad karaoke performances that's fun to watch.''

The 2-year-old site gets about 100,000 visits on show days, and came to public consciousness last year when it took some credit for propping Scott Savol - a goatee-sporting ``regular Joe'' thought to be the weakest link - into the contest's final five.

This year, Della Terza has rallied behind Kevin Covais, a top 12 contender whose glasses and boyish 16-year-old looks have garnered him the nickname ``Chicken Little'' after the Disney animated character. He survived the first week, only to be axed last week.

The Web site now has its sights on Kellie Pickler of North Carolina.

``The worst possible thing that can happen ... is for them to have to sign ANOTHER blonde, country singer,'' Della Terza wrote on the site. ``It would hurt (Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood's) sales or hurt Kellie's sales.''

Asked about the Web site recently, a Fox spokesman said the network had no comment, but it did issue this statement last year:

``While it is unfortunate that a small group of people are so caustic that they believe it would be humorous to attempt to negatively sway the voting on 'American Idol,' the number of purported visits to the Web site would have no impact on voting. Their hateful campaign will have no effect on the selection of the next 'American Idol.'''

Yet the show's producers aren't above having a little fun - witness the string of off-key rejects that open each series, or William Hung, who parlayed a fractured rendition of Ricky Martin's ``She Bangs'' into an entertainment career with ``Idol's'' blessings.

It's just that Della Terza refuses to follow the script when the contest gets serious. He said on the site that the show's more about producing riveting reality TV than being a serious singing competition, and what's good reality without an ``entertaining antagonist?''

``It's not like we hate 'American Idol,''' he said. ``We love 'American Idol.' We're like the counterculture of 'American Idol,' and (the show's producers) don't know where to peg us.''

Jonathan Wilcox, who teaches celebrity and public relations at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, said these contrarians aren't new.

``There is always an impulse among the public to gain social power by knowing and understanding the faults of entertainers,'' he said. ``The title (of the site) alone is a dead giveaway of its snarky sense (of humor), which by all accounts is very popular today.''

However, the Internet has empowered people like Della Terza to organize the like-minded and amplify their potential influence over entertainment culture, and the industry actually is paying attention, Wilcox said.

``A generation ago, that was unthinkable,'' he said. ``The established entertainment industry would love to exert continued influence over these mediums that influence the public. But the fact that they can't - it's something the (Web) celebrates and will continue to exploit.''

Della Terza moved to California about a year ago from Chicago to work on reality TV - he logs tapes as a day job. He caught the reality bug in 2000, when the castaway contest ``Survivor'' hit the airwaves.

He studied communications at Northern Illinois University. For his senior thesis, Della Terza said, he created a campus version of ``The Amazing Race,'' from casting to shooting and editing the footage into six 22-minute episodes.

``They would run around campus and go to different buildings,'' he said. ``It was so much fun. I got an A.''

Della Terza said he's pursuing a career in video editing, but detoured to the Internet when Juanita Barber, a contestant on the second season of ``American Idol,'' inspired him and several members of a reality TV Web message board to start their own site.

Barber gained renown for snapping back at her critics - even trading barbs with snippy ``Idol'' judge Simon Cowell. It made great television, Della Terza said.

``She's like the patron saint of the forum,'' he said. ``Why can't we have a Juanita every season?''

The Web site was built gradually, and hit prime time last year when major news outlets pegged it as a culprit in explaining underdog Savol's seemingly improbable good fortune in the audience polls.

That pushed traffic to some 1 million visits, and got the Fox network to denounce the site, Della Terza said.

``I guess it's power,'' he said. ``Fox doesn't like me. Everyone takes it so seriously. It's a funny Web site. Kudos to 'American Idol' for making a show that people live and die by.''

Della Terza now runs the site with about six other volunteers - writing commentary, moderating forums and answering the 20 to 25 e-mails he gets per day (though a news media mention last week generated 400).

And he'll continue to wage this guerrilla campaign from his bedroom.

``Apparently it's uncool to like reality now,'' Della Terza said. ``But 'American Idol' is the No. 1 show on TV. I guess it's not that uncool.''

Friday, August 08, 2008

'BUSTOS BOUNCE' GOOD AS GOLD -- LOCAL ATHLETE PLAYING WELL AT OLYMPICS

August 21, 2004
By Eugene Tong
Staff Writer -- Daily News Los Angeles

ATHENS, Greece - Call it the ``Bustos bounce.''

It's the spring in her step, the enthusiasm for the field and the flurry of home runs unleashed by U.S. Olympic softball mainstay and Canyon Country native Crystl Bustos when she's on her game.

``Once she got that first one off, she's got that Bustos bounce,'' Anthony Castro, a cousin, said after watching the third baseman knock one out of the Olympic Softball Stadium on Thursday in Team USA's final preliminary match against Chinese Taipei.

``(It's) that energy, that big smile when she's running around the field,'' said Castro, 31, of Temecula. ``It's been great.''

The team, 7-0, has steamrollered every opponent since competition began Aug. 14 with round-robin play among the eight qualifying teams. Bustos, who first earned gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and is considered the sport's top slugger, smashed three home runs in the team's perfect preliminary run.

``It takes everything,'' Bustos, 26, said in an interview after the game.
``It takes every aspect of our game to work. We have to have the hitting, the bunting, the phenomenal defense ... and just keep pushing at it.''

But that's all in the past. The semifinals will begin Sunday, with the United States vs. Australia. The winner will play for the gold against either the People's Republic of China or Japan, who also are squaring off for a place at Monday's gold and silver medal match.

``They're going to be hungry and they're going to be wanting us,'' Bustos said. ``The 10 runs that we got (against Australia in the preliminaries), that was already in the past. We can't hold on to that. We just have to keep going.''

But unlike four years ago, when Bustos and her teammates had to play amid thousands of rabid Aussie fans, Athens has been more supportive territory.

``In Sydney, we had a lot of people against us,'' Bustos said. ``When we fell behind, it seemed like a dogfight. It was definitely a hard thing to come through.

``The difference between now and then - we got a lot more people on our side and they help you to get pumped up.''

Michelle Duncan, 37, of Bakersfield traveled thousands of miles with her daughter Stefanie, 12, to cheer on Bustos and Team USA in a stadium built on top of an old Athens airport. It's a place where, in spite of 84-degree heat and 42 percent humidity, the crowd might break into impromptu Greek dancing between innings when the PA system plays the right snippet of traditional music.

``She's very focused - a team player,'' Michelle said. ``She's the one you can count on to get the job done.''

Still, softball has been struggling to find its audience outside a small, die-hard fan base. Making only its third appearance since becoming an Olympic event at the 1996 Atlanta Games, attendance for the Athens matches remained sparse - from about 300 in a game between Italy and Canada to more than 2,300 when the United States played Greece.

While the sport is safe for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, its future as an official event beyond the Chinese capital appeared uncertain.

``It would be a loss to the Olympics - it would be a loss for baseball in general (if softball is dropped),'' said Bustos, who along with such star teammates as pitchers Jennie Finch and Lori Harrigan is trying to promote softball beyond North America.

``We want to get other countries to strive through another sport,'' she said. ``We're helping in that.''

``The girls are so down-to-earth,'' said William Harper, 20, of Warsaw, Va., who caught a match in between volunteering at the games. ``They're trying to save the sport after '08. They're putting on a good show.''

Meanwhile, Bustos and her team are focused on the task at hand.

``I hope to bring back another gold,'' said Bustos, when asked about the fans back home in Canyon Country. ``I appreciate all the e-mails and fan support I got back there. It's going to be a couple games to watch. You won't want to miss them.''

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Arson feared in Langa fire devastation

May 25 2000

By Yunus Kemp and Eugene Tong, Cape Argus (Cape Town, South Africa)

Gladwell Mapisa stands forlorn among the charred remains of the home he once shared with his wife Nolwando and their five-month-old baby boy Asivile, who died in the blaze.

All around him little children sift through blackened remnants in the hope of retrieving something from the fire that razed eight shacks in Zone 25 of the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Langa, Cape Town, on Friday morning.

Neighbours and other residents who gathered at the scene stood silently sombre, all eyes fixed on the destruction by which they could so easily have been affected.

Thirty-two shack fires, including the incident on Friday, have been reported in the settlement since the beginning of the year, said Epping fire control room officer Clarence Sinkfontein.

There have been six deaths, including those of Mapisa and her son.

The community fears an arsonist is operating in the area.

In January, three fires within a week of each other destroyed 165 shacks, left two people dead and hundreds more homeless.

In April, 150 shacks were destroyed, some of which had been rebuilt after other blazes, and again scores of people were left homeless and had to rebuild.

And last week, two Angolan brothers, Mario and Nguije Inacio, burned to death after their shack was set alight in what was believed to be a xenophobic attack.

Mapisa was still at work when the fire, which broke out at about 5.30am on Friday, trapped his wife and baby son inside, and sent them to a fiery death.

No one else was hurt in the incident.

Eleven firefighters from the Epping Fire Station responded to the call at 5.52am and arrived on the scene seven minutes later. They extinguished the fire within an hour.

Although the police have not established the cause of the fire, residents believe that it was the work of an arsonist after a neighbour of the Mapisas, Nonkululeko Jacobs, saw a man running from the scene seconds after the fire started.

"I was woken up by footsteps and looked through my window and saw the fire. I then saw a man at the Mapisas' home and opened my front door and shouted at him, 'What are you doing, why are you lighting the fire?'

"The man just ran away and disappeared," said Jacobs.

She then shouted for people to wake up. "Everyone except the woman and the baby got out. We could hear them screaming and tried to put water on the flames, but the fire was too strong and spread quickly," said Ms Jacobs.

She ruled out the possibility of the fire being started by a candle or a paraffin lamp as the Mapisas used neither because they had electricity.

Mapisa, still distraught from the loss of his family, could only say: "Both of them destroyed in the fire, both of them destroyed in the fire."

For the others affected, the rebuilding process will start almost immediately as they fear losing their small plots to other people.

Nosipho Tuba and her family rummaged through debris for salvageable pottery, spoons and glass plates.

Her house used to stand next to the Mapisa home.

Tuba was awakened by Jacobs' shouting. Seeing her quarters burning, she put on some "light clothes" and woke her 11-year-old son and 19-year-old brother, telling them to escape.

All she managed to save before the house collapsed was a suitcase packed with personal belongings.

The informal settlement sprang up in the early '90s, when people invaded the open land on the corners of Vanguard Drive and Washington Street. It has since mushroomed and today stretches from the Langa Comprehensive School all the way to the Langa exit on the N2.

People still share communal taps and the night bucket system is in use, testimony to the area's sub-economic status and an example of the rudimentary lifestyle of its inhabitants.

Greg Pillay of the Cape Town City Council's disaster management office, said the number of fires in the Joe Slovo settlement was definitely a worry.

Long-term plans by his department to combat the problem included the installation of "panic poles", six of which had been installed in Langa.

The poles have a button which, when depressed, connects the user to the Cape Metropolitan Council's control centre via a two-way radio system, from where rescue personnel can be dispatched to deal with the reported emergency.

Pillay said firefighting was a problem in the informal settlements as there were no water points. There was insufficient space between homes for firebreaks and fire engines had difficulty in navigating the narrow roads.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More to come...

need a break from all this posting...brb.

FANATIC ABOUT `TONIGHT SHOW' -- WOMAN SEES 157 STRAIGHT TAPINGS*

May 15, 2007
By EUGENE TONG
Staff Writer

BURBANK - As GloZell Green stood in line to see ``The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'' for the 20th straight time last summer, the man himself got wind of the streak and came outside to see her.

``Are you stalking me? I heard I had a stalker out here,'' Green said Leno asked her.

``No, sir,'' she said.

``OK, because I never had one,'' he said.

They posed for a photo and he went on his way.

Now, 157 consecutive shows later, including today's taping, he still has his No.1 fan.

``It's benevolent stalking,'' said Richard Johnson, 47, Green's boyfriend. ``She doesn't stalk him, but every time she sees him she's like, `Woo-hoo!'''

For the past 10 months, the 34-year-old Los Angeles woman has made Studio3 at NBC her second home, keeping a diary about her life in the Leno line that she turned into a daily blog -- glozelllovesjayleno.blogspot.com -- in September.

Asked if there's a bigger Leno fan, Green said: ``Maybe his wife, that's about it. She don't come here every day. ... But I got her back. I'm watching her man for her.''

Leno love

Her love of Leno began in 1994 when he appeared at her alma mater, the University of Florida, and brought the house down.

``What I like about him is he's a clean comic,'' said Green, whose first name derives from Gloria and Ozell, her mother and father. ``He's nice, and he's just funny. And you never see him in the tabloids. They don't even make up stuff about him.''

When the Orlando, Fla., native moved to Los Angeles to pursue comedy, she got to know an NBC employee through church who got her on the Leno guest list. It was easy the first seven months -- she could get in whenever she wanted -- until her friend moved on.

Since then, she has had to work a little harder to keep her streak going. She arrives for tickets at 8a.m. -- she's always among the first in line -- then sits and waits for more than seven hours until the doors open about 3p.m. Her flexible hours as a massage therapist afford her the time.

Sometimes Johnson brings her lunch.

``I can understand the softer side of obsession,'' he said. ``I'm a bibliophile, and I'm in to getting signed copies of books.

``She's like Miss Miller for the new millennia.''

That would be the late Lillian Miller, a regular audience member of ``The Tonight Show'' during the Steve Allen-Jack Paar era and of ``The Merv Griffin Show,'' where she became a bit of a sideshow herself.

Ever vigilant

An actress by training, Green had a similar idea when she began her Leno vigil in July: she wanted to get noticed and be a correspondent for the show.

``Instead of being a correspondent for `The Tonight Show,' I became a correspondent at `The Tonight Show,''' she said.

Green also has become the line's de facto authority -- answering questions from tourists and holding back line jumpers. The show pages know her by name, and she keeps them on their toes -- if a bathroom runs out of soap, she'll write about it.

``In a strange way, she's a pre-show,'' Johnson said. ``She helps people get in line. If someone needs a ticket, she'll go down the line and find them one. She's a lovely woman who enjoys being there.''

As for the streak, she plans to keep seeing Leno at least until July.

``I can at least do a year and make some kind of goal out of it,'' she said. ``I've been trying to figure out what my excuse is after July. I've been saying when Jay retires, I'll retire.''

That would be in 2009, or at least another few hundred shows.

*FOR THE RECORD
Due to an editing error, a headline and photo caption Tuesday misstated GloZell Green's attendance at ``The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.'' She had attended 177 consecutive tapings.

CHARGED UP OVER SALES OF E-CARS -- GLENDALE DEALER PENS TO BUYERS

May 24, 2007
By EUGENE TONG
Staff Writer

GLENDALE -- They roll down the street in stealthy silence and run on juice from your wall socket, and for Rob Thomas, they're the antidote to the ills of high gas prices and petroleum dependency.

``I want to go completely off carbon,'' Thomas said as he inspected an electric car at EnVironmental Motors, one of the only showrooms in the San Fernando Valley dedicated to the sale of electric cars. ``I'm the guy who's installing solar panels on my roof, and I want to plug it into that.''

While most people might be tempted to install fluorescent light bulbs or check their tire pressure after watching former Vice President Al Gore's global warming documentary, Taryn Sokolow, director of the e-car venture, said the film motivated her to revive the greener side of the family business.

Her father owns Colonial Honda next door and first dealt in electrics six years ago. But that side business had been quiet until recently.

``Before I saw that movie, I didn't know how bad it really was,'' said Sokolow, 25. ``I didn't know how deep (global warming) really went. ... I'm in a unique position to do something.''

The dealership, which held its grand opening this week, stocks vehicles with fanciful nameplates such as Santa Rosa-based ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) and ZENN (Zero Emission No Noise), from Toronto-based Feel Good Cars.

Some resemble your common compact hatchback, but with the rattle of a gasoline engine muffled to a soft buzz from the electric motor. Others, like ZAP's Xebra line of three-wheel sedans and pickups, are guaranteed to turn heads as much as record high gas prices do.

The national average for a gallon of unleaded regular exceeded $3 this week, while hitting $3.45 locally, according to AAA.

``The record just keep going up and up with gas prices,'' said ZAP CEO Steve Schneider. ``I think that consumers globally need to have choice.''

Still, they might be a tough sell in sprawling Southern California -- the Xebra's top speed is 40 mph, with a range of up to 25 miles between charges. At $10,000, it's best used to supplement a gas-powered vehicle for local errands.

It's those limitations that will keep electrics at novelty status, said Jim Hossack, senior consultant with Tustin-based automotive analyst AutoPacific.

``In terms of high-volume application ... all pure electric cars (are) probably nonviable,'' he said. ``At the same time, L.A. is a big place and there are lots of opportunities for a lot of unusual uses. Can you sell 100 a year? Maybe. Can you sell 1,000? Then you're pushing me.''

Hence, Los Angeles is a key market for Schneider.

``Automobiles in America represent more than just transportation,'' he said. ``It represents individualism. And there's no other place than Los Angeles where individualism speaks out in an automobile.

``If gas is $10 a gallon, you will still see Hummers driving here in L.A. There will always be demand in one spectrum. We're just in the other end.''

Meanwhile, newer electric models with more power and range are on the drawing board, and are at least 1 1/2 years away from market. That's why electrics at EnVironmental Motors share the Glendale lot with a few Smart cars, those ultra-compact, freeway-safe gasoline vehicles that scream Euro-chic and get about 40 mpg.

``We want to get users familiar with electric technology,'' Sokolow said. ``When they start coming out, we hope that our name is already out there and already associated with electric vehicles, so it will be an easy segue to freeway-speed electrics.''

Related: Video Report

SINGALONG WITH XXX -- AT PORN STAR KARAOKE, EVERYONE JOINS IN

June 6, 2007
By EUGENE TONG
Staff Writer

BURBANK -- Tuesday night at Sardo's is Porn Star Karaoke, a weekly gathering of marketing managers, writers, technicians, casting agents -- and of course, performers -- of XXX.

It's ``Cheers'' meets ``Boogie Nights,'' where colleagues in the trade unwind over bravado versions of ``Mack the Knife'' and The Pussycat Dolls' hit, ``Buttons.''

``It's the adult family-fun friend vibe, as opposed to being suited and booted in `Follywood,''' said Tee Reel, a performer and director, on a recent visit. ``I don't have to be `on' coming in here.''

Tod Hunter, who has written about the adult-film industry for about a decade and is a Tuesday night regular at Sardo's, sees it as another in a long line of traditional industry hangouts where colleagues trade gossip and good times over drinks.

``Everybody's got one,'' he said. ``This just happens to be ours. If it wasn't Sardo's, we would've wound up someplace else.''

One Tuesday night, alcohol, song and friendly mingling were center stage. The only obvious connection to the industry were the porn videos offered as prizes in the ladies-only limbo contest and several casually dressed performers who wouldn't be out of place at a mall.

``I can hang out with a few people in the industry and not be overwhelmed,'' actress Flower Tucci said. ``It's a little place on the outskirts of Porn Valley.''

But a special event could mean an overflow crowd in the parking lot. Organizers recently hosted a party for Adult Video News award nominees and a bondage theme night. Notable XXX names like Tera Patrick and Ron Jeremy have visited, along with mainstream Hollywood celebrities like Richard Dreyfuss and Mickey Rourke, said Seymour Satin, Sardo's general manager.

``When you want to see movie stars, you go to Jerry's (Famous) Deli,'' he said. ``When you want to see porn stars, you come to Sardo's.''

Constance Le, one of the original members of the karaoke club, said it began when she met some other porn industry veterans at Sardo's to indulge in their shared passion for song and performance.

``It was a marriage between attention whores and attention whores -- same people,'' said Le, who works behind the scenes at the adult-video label DVSX, for which she is an occasional director. ``People in the industry, we all seek attention one way or another, and this is just another way to get it.''

Tuesday nights were usually slow, and Satin welcomed their business. He realized it had become a phenomenon on the second week when word got out and more than 80 people showed up.

``The week after, it was 100,'' said Satin, a former corporate librarian turned XXX karaoke impresario. ``We know we hit a milestone after the first year.''

The early days were pretty wild, including abundant public displays of affection, Le recalled.

``It got to the point where they had to put little slips of paper on all the tables stating the rules -- like no nudity. The same rules still apply.''

It's more mellow nowadays -- Le is usually front and center, mixing with a few dozen industry regulars, while the usual barflies and curious civilians look on. When he's not singing ``Rainbow Connection'' in the voice of Kermit the Frog, XXX screenwriter George ``Fozi'' Kaplan sits with two women, new performers in the business.

``A lot of business, I'm sure, gets done here -- meetings, castings, accidental castings,'' said Le, who has hired someone she met here for a shoot.

Plus, it beats any industry party.

``Your typical porn party is a real pain,'' Le said. ``You've got to get all hoochied-up. Here, it's chill. There are no egos here.''

Related links: East of the 5 post; audio slideshow

VERDICT: $6.2 MILLION, MAYBE -- BLACK LESBIAN FIREFIGHTER WINS DISCRIMINATION SUIT

July 4, 2007
By EUGENE TONG and KERRY CAVANAUGH
Staff Writers

A Los Angeles firefighter who said she was harassed at work because she is African-American, a woman and a lesbian received a $6.2 million jury award Tuesday in her discrimination case against the city.

The jury ruled in favor of Brenda Lee, 39, of Mission Hills after a two-week trial in Los Angeles Superior Court. It's the largest payout in a string of recent settlements of cases alleging discrimination and retaliation against women and minorities within the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The jury award covers past and future economic and noneconomic damages suffered by Lee, who was assigned to Fire Station 96 in Chatsworth and is now on unpaid leave.

The jury will reconvene Thursday to consider punitive damages against LAFD Capt. Christopher Hare, Lee's former supervisor, which means Lee could be awarded even more money.

Lee's attorneys had offered to settle the case for $4.5 million, but the City Attorney's Office had recommended against the offer, saying Lee had credibility issues with contradicting claims, City Hall sources told the Daily News.

Rob Kitson, an attorney for Lee, declined to comment, saying Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern has asked lawyers not to discuss the case until it is over.

City Attorney's Office spokesman Jonathan Diamond said the city ``will review its options going forward,'' and referred questions to private attorneys Rupert Byrdsong and Keith Wyatt, who were hired to represent the city. They did not immediately return calls for comment. Los Angeles Fire Department officials could not be reached for comment.

The verdict is another blow for the city and a fire department trying to recover from what critics say was a firehouse culture of horseplay and permissiveness that sometimes crossed the line into race and gender discrimination.

That criticism, coupled with a scathing audit by City Controller Laura Chick pointing to inconsistent discipline and a tendency to downplay offenses, prompted former LAFD Chief William Bamattre to retire Jan. 1. His successor, interim Chief Douglas Barry, has worked to reform the 3,500-member department.

``It's a huge verdict and it's very alarming to anyone who has a fiduciary responsibility over the city budget,'' said Councilman Jack Weiss, who heads the City Council's public safety committee.

``The most important thing is to reform the Fire Department. There's new leadership ... Hopefully that will prevent these sorts of lawsuits.''

A 12-year LAFD veteran, Lee alleged her superiors made derogatory comments about her and put her through grueling drills without proper safety precautions because of her race and sexual orientation.

She also said her locker was ransacked. Most of the discrimination occurred from 2002 to 2004 while she was assigned to the Chatsworth station.

Defense attorneys said Lee's problems stemmed from lack of responsibility and accountability.

Lee filed her lawsuit in 2005 along with two former Los Angeles firefighters -- both white -- who also alleged they faced discrimination and were forced to retire partly because of their age.

Lewis Steven Bressler, 68, claimed he was placed in a hostile work environment at Fire Station 96 in retaliation for blowing the whistle on Lee's mistreatment. He won a $1.73 million jury award in April. The third plaintiff, Gary Mellinger, settled with the city for $350,000 last year.

In other cases against the LAFD, a jury last month awarded $3.75 million to Capt. Frank Lima, who claimed he was retaliated against for not giving preferential treatment to a female trainee injured in a drill in 2004.

Meanwhile, the case of Tennie Pierce, a black firefighter who filed a discrimination suit after dog food was slipped into his dinner in what colleagues said was a prank, is headed for trial in September. The City Council had approved a $2.7 million settlement, a sum that sparked public outrage. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa subsequently vetoed it.

JURY BACKS CITY IN FIREFIGHTER'S SUIT ALLEGING LAFD RACISM

June 20, 2007

By EUGENE TONG
Staff Writer

In a legal victory for the beleaguered Los Angeles Fire Department, a jury declined Tuesday to award damages to an African-American firefighter who claimed he suffered harassment and retaliation after he complained about racism in the agency.

Jabari S. Jumaane, a 21-year LAFD veteran now stationed at a midcity firehouse, filed suit in 2003, seeking more than $7 million. After deliberating a day, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury decided in favor of the city.

``We're very disappointed,'' said Nana S. Gyamfi, Jumaane's attorney. ``Based upon the evidence we presented, we felt that any fair jury would come to the conclusion that the Fire Department discriminated against and retaliated against Firefighter Jumaane.

``It sends the wrong message to the department and the city and society at large as to what they can get away with in terms of black employees.''

The decision was a bright spot for a department mired in a series of discrimination and retaliation cases that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

``We believed all along there was no merit to the claims, and we're pleased the jury saw it the same way,'' said Jonathan Diamond, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office.

Jumaane, now 46, had claimed suspensions in 1999 and 2001 for poor job performance and violating department vehicle regulations were actually acts of retaliation for speaking out against racist depictions of African-Americans within the department.

According to the lawsuit, they include a reference to black firefighters as water boys, a reference to blacks as being sprayed with water hoses during a rally protesting police brutality, and drawings showing African-Americans as cannibals.

But Deputy City Attorney Robert S. Brown argued that Jumaane's 1999 suspension came while he was an inspector and was found doing paperwork at the office rather than supervising brush clearance, and once failed to show up for work for a week without calling.

Gyamfi said a computer malfunction affected his client's work logs.

Meanwhile, trial continued Tuesday in Firefighter Brenda Lee's suit alleging she was discriminated against because she is African-American, a woman and a lesbian. She says her superiors put her through grueling drills without proper safety precautions and made derogatory comments about her race and sexual orientation.

Before the Jumaane ruling, the city lost two prior cases alleging discrimination and misconduct in the LAFD. Earlier this month, a jury awarded $3.75 million to Capt. Frank Lima, who claimed he was retaliated against for not giving preferential treatment to a female recruit injured during a 2004 training drill. In April, Los Angeles Firefighter Lewis S. Bressler won $1.73 million in a suit claiming he was forced to retire for blowing the whistle on harassment against Lee.

DROUGHT, SUMMER'S ARRIVAL SPARK FEAR OF RAGING BRUSH FIRES IN REGION

June 21, 2007
By EUGENE TONG
Staff Writer

Firefighters trying to show homeowners the do's and dont's of brush-fire protection could simply point to Rodney Kemerer's backyard in Benedict Canyon.

On the hill behind Kemerer's house, a 200-foot-wide fire break dotted with water sprinklers extends across the length of his property -- the recommended barrier between brush and structures in this hilly area between Studio City and Beverly Hills.

But thick, tinder-dry vegetation covers the same slope behind Kemerer's neighbor's house, posing a serious fire risk.

``It's the flip of a cigarette,'' Kemerer, vice president of the Benedict Canyon Association, said Wednesday. ``It's an easy ignition point, and it becomes an example to the rest of the community. If that guy didn't clear it, why should I?''

With today's official start of summer and a record dry year, some hillside residents' and fire officials' nerves are increasingly on edge as they confront what has seemed like an endless, year-round fire season in Southern California.

Since July, Los Angeles has received a scant 3.21 inches of rain, and wildfires -- including the nearly 1,000-acre blaze that burned a quarter of Griffith Park last month -- have increased from 296 in the first six months of last year to more than 2,100 so far this year.

``There has not been a break,'' said Capt. Antoine McKnight, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman. ``The fire season has been one continuous one. We just have to be very vigilant.''

Capt. Mike Brown of the Los Angeles County Fire Department agreed. Officials have augmented crews stationed in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, he said.

``The faster you attack a fire, the less time it has to spread,'' McKnight said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Water and Power has cleared dry brush from all its major properties, including the Encino and Chatsworth reservoirs, and lots in Franklin Canyon, Stone Canyon, Hollywood and Pacific Palisades.

Clearance is key

Work at a handful of 31 smaller properties is scheduled to be completed next week, LADWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said. Officials stepped up efforts after a downed power line in Franklin Canyon sparked a fire that charred three homes in April.

``We take brush clearance very seriously and we work very cooperatively with the Fire Department to ensure our properties are cleared by their crews,'' Ramallo said.

But some people still don't seem to get the message. Just over the weekend, firefighters in Benedict Canyon responded to reports of someone burning trash in a backyard.

And the LAFD has received at least 36 reports of illegal burning just this month.

``They need to be more careful and not just consider what they're doing, but consider the community,'' McKnight said. ``You're not supposed to burn your trash. You're not supposed to burn your yard waste. But we still find people doing things like that.''

As hot, dry and windy conditions forced a second day of a red-flag warning over Los Angeles County on Wednesday, the parched region experienced three small fires -- a blaze in Sunland charred 10 acres; a fire in the Santa Clarita Valley burned about 3 acres; and a grass fire burned briefly near Bel Air Presbyterian Church in the Sepulveda Pass.

The red-flag warning was expected to continue until 9 tonight. But the looming wildfire threat will linger for many, including Ana Bebekian of Stevenson Ranch.

When flames raged along the dry hills cradling her upscale community in 2003, Bebekian and her husband took photographs and video of their home before fleeing with their two young children.

``We've just been really careful and afraid,'' she said. She pointed across the street. ``This whole hill was burned.''

Meanwhile, dry brush filled trash cans and Dumpsters along Running Horse Road in Placerita Canyon, where the 6,000-acre Foothill Fire roared through in 2004.

Defensible space

The neighborhood ``was like an island; both sides of it were burning,'' said Ken Price, a retired studio prop maker.

Price said he spends at least an hour a week now clearing brush around his property.

For firefighters, that 200-foot buffer between a home and brush is the difference between survival and tragedy.

``It gives firefighters a defensible space for the home, and a space to retreat in case the fire gets away,'' McKnight said. ``If you live in a very high-hazard zone, you have to clear your brush.''

An early start

In Los Angeles County, Brown said officials this year began brush clearance inspections in January -- two months before the typical start in March.

``The field moisture is extremely low,'' Brown said. ``If a fire gets going, it could be really serious.''

The LAFD also conducts inspections, but McKnight said homeowners shouldn't wait until a fire inspector is at their door.

``If you live in those areas, you know already what needs to be done,'' McKnight said.

In Benedict Canyon, resident Cory Wellman, 57, said she can still picture the dense black smoke that covered the region when a fire raged on the hill across from her last year.

For her, every driver along the windy road with a cigarette dangling from the window spells trouble.

``It is always scary,'' she said. ``And people are really concerned. ... Fire season here -- there's no beginning and no end. It's just constant.''

Staff Writer Brandon Lowrey contributed to this story.

SIMPLE JUSTICE: RICHIE GIVEN FOUR DAYS IN JAIL

July 28, 2007
Staff and Wire Services

GLENDALE -- In the latest case of a celebrity starlet gone bad, Nicole Richie was sentenced to four days in jail Friday after pleading guilty to driving under the influence.

For her wrong-way freeway trek through Burbank in a Mercedes-Benz, Richie was slapped with jail time, a $2,048 fine and ordered to attend drug and alcohol rehab.
``She's not gonna be coming in here wearing a mini skirt and pumps,'' Burbank police Sgt. Thor Merich said, describing the spartan lifestyle that would await her if she goes to that city's jail. ``We pretty much go the bare minimum.''

Prosecutors said Richie will serve time in a city jail rather than a county lockup. She has the choice of any local jail in Los Angeles County that will accept her.

Richie arrived in a black SUV on the arm of her boyfriend, rocker Joel Madden (a proud Glendalian).

The couple and their entourage cruised past sheriff's security and waited outside Glendale Superior Court Department 1 along with the media throng -- about two-thirds credentialed broadcast and print crews, one-third curious onlookers and bloggers.

In court, a somber and subdued Richie pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of drugs in a deal with prosecutors that helped her avoid a potential year in jail on her second DUI conviction.

But Richie, who is rumored to be pregnant, couldn't avoid a lecture from Superior Court Commissioner Steven K. Lubell.

``The facts of this case are pretty scary,'' he said. ``Somebody could have been killed.''

If Richie violates her probation, she'll wind up in jail for a year.

For now, she will serve less than four days. In jail, Richie will be able to wear most of her own clothing but anything that might be used as a weapon will be taken away, including shoelaces, belts, high heels and underwire bras.

Richie was arrested Dec. 11 after witnesses reported seeing her black Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle headed the wrong way on the 134 Freeway in Burbank. The California Highway Patrol said they found her parked in the car-pool lane.

Richie told authorities she had smoked marijuana and taken the prescription painkiller Vicodin, a CHP officer said at the time. No drugs were found on her or in the car.

The waif-like reality-show star was conservatively dressed Friday in a loose black trapeze style dress that skimmed her body and kept observers guessing about the rumors she is pregnant.

Her blond hair was pulled back in a knot at her neck just above a ``Richie'' tattoo that included a small red bow.

The co-star of TV's ``The Simple Life'' and daughter of pop singer Lionel Richie must complete her jail time by Sept. 28 and return to court Feb. 20 to show she has complied with the rest of the sentence.

She follows in the unsteady footsteps of her ``Simple Life'' co-star Paris Hilton, who recently was released from jail after serving time on a probation violation in a DUI case. Actress Lindsay Lohan also was arrested this week on suspicion of DUI and cocaine possession.

--
from Daily News' Glendale/Burbank news blog:

The victim of an elbow

The whole thing was over within a half-hour. Reporters compared notes on what happened as Richie and her crew left the building. Photographers got agitated, and I was caught between the curb and Richie's SUV.

Dozens of photogs suddenly turned in my direction, pushing over each other to squeeze a few shots of her departure. That's where the elbow to the head came -- a slight bump that ejected me to the rear of the pack.

No big deal -- we all gotta pay the bills -- and I had to run to cover the district attorney's news conference.

There, the TV folks peppered Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Lugo with their two obsessions -- whether Richie will do her four days in jail in the county slammer or in a nice city jail, where there's TV and Internet access; and what is the lesson to be learned here?

-- Staff Writer Eugene Tong

4 INCHES DEFINE HOMEOWNERS' DECADE-OLD FIGHT --

July 29, 2007
By EUGENE TONG
Staff Writer

LA CRESCENTA -- For Paul and Lisa Dutton, 4inches is the difference between home, sweet home and a Kafkaesque decade-old homeowners' nightmare.

An addition to the Duttons' three-bedroom home on Burritt Way built in 1967 had overstepped his neighbor's property line by 4inches.
But the city only caught the problem in 1997, nine years after the Duttons moved in. And the problem now has the Duttons in a legal battle against a neighbor and City Hall.

``We moved into this house for nine years, and wham, they whack us with this,'' Paul Dutton said in a recent interview. ``We have been doing our due diligence by working with the city ... and all the way to the City Council, they're saying, `You're at fault.' We're tired of that.''

$106,000 in fees

In the years since the problem was caught, there has been litigation, countless meetings with city officials and more than $106,000 in lawyers' fees as the Duttons attempt to make the extension legal.

Their last stop now is the City Council, which has to decide whether to grant the family a zoning variance to allow the room to stand or reject it and potentially open the case to still more litigation.

The council first considered the issue earlier this month, but it deadlocked 2-2 with Councilman Dave Weaver on vacation. The full panel will consider the issue again Aug.7.

Asked about the impending decision Friday, Weaver declined to comment, saying he still has to review the case.

It might appear a case of rigid bureaucracy unwilling to give the Duttons a break. But for the city, it's a matter of enforcement and proper application of a variance.

``We are a city of law,'' Mayor Ara Najarian said during the July10 hearing as he urged the Duttons to start over and rebuild. ``Variances should only be granted in the most extreme of circumstances.''

City Planning Director Hassan Haghani said variances only grant exceptions if a property is hampered by unique physical constraints.

``Because of the unique circumstances, the strict application of the code on the property would put it at a disadvantage to other properties,'' he said.

``In this case, the fact that at some point somebody built a structure, in and of itself, does not constitute a hardship.

``It doesn't mean we don't empathize with people and what they are experiencing as individual constituents. But we are responsible for enforcement.''

The disputed 330-square-foot extension was built in 1967 as a ``cabana,'' according to city permits. But even then, the room encroached into the neighbor's lot, which the Duttons claimed the city had cited but did not follow up.

The Duttons bought the home in 1989 -- the home's third owner -- and later improved the room by adding electrical wiring, wall insulation and new windows.

But nine years later, Paul Dutton came home to find a citation -- his extension violated city codes because it didn't have the minimum 4-foot setback from the property line.

``And then it all started,'' he said.

In fact, a surveyor then found the room overstepped the neighbor's property by 4inches.

Dutton said he worked with the city for about five years to try to get a variance, arguing he didn't know about the problems when he bought the home -- the violation never came up in the usual background checks.

To make the room legal, the Duttons also first had to win ownership over the 4inches -- which led to a legal battle with neighbor Sylvia Boyer in Los Angeles Superior Court.

They won their case in a decision upheld on appeal. But attorney Peter Wright, who represents Boyer, still disputed the legality of the addition and argued against granting the variance at the recent public hearing.

Should have known

He said the Duttons should have known about the room's problems when the family remodeled it.

Najarian agreed and voted against the variance along with Councilman Bob Yousefian, who said he felt the Duttons hadn't completed their due diligence.

Councilmen Frank Quintero and John Drayman sided with the Duttons.

``I certainly will not choose to enforce a building violation that is 40 years old by penalizing the third homeowner that resides in the house,'' Drayman said.

Meanwhile, the Duttons just hope that one day they will be able to enjoy their entire house.

``Just sitting in that room, you look at it and it's a nice room,'' Lisa Dutton said.

``But you have no peace,'' Paul Dutton said.

KILLING SHATTERS BURBANK PARADISE -- GRIEF, DISBELIEF FELT OVER 3 DEATHS

August 11, 2007
By EUGENE TONG and NAUSH BOGOHOSSIAN
Staff Writers

BURBANK -- They were neighbors -- a mother studying to be a dentist, a devout and jolly apartment manager and his studious son, and a security guard some described as taciturn, paranoid and prone to arguing.

They lived in a two-story apartment complex in the 600 block of East Cypress Avenue, where children played freely in the courtyard and residents felt safe enough to jog or run errands late into the night.
But the suburban idyll was shattered Thursday afternoon in a shooting rampage that ended in three deaths -- the first multiple homicide in Burbank in about 20 years.

``I'm still trying to wake up from a bad nightmare,'' apartment manager Zack Gerbs said Friday, his eyes welling with tears as he surveyed the bullet-scarred building.

Police were still trying to understand what drove Rafael Shirinian, 49, to kill Vahik Farhadian, 48, the building's resident manager, and Manyam Masihi, 49, the aspiring dentist.

He also wounded Farhadian's 22-year-old son, Oshin, before shooting himself.

``We have no motive other than he couldn't get along with his neighbors and just resorted to an unbelievable act of violence,'' police Sgt. Matt Ferguson said.

Investigators found rifles, pistols and a shotgun at Shirinian's two-bedroom apartment, where he'd lived for five years with his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Residents of the 25-unit building -- those who witnessed the rampage and those who narrowly escaped it -- were reeling from grief and disbelief.

A boy who lived next to Farhadian looked shell-shocked. His father had come out when he heard gunfire and Farhadian's pleas for help, only to find a gun pointed at him and a snarled warning to go back inside.

Another neighbor, who lived two doors from Masihi, narrowly dodged a bullet, which slammed into a wall by his door.

Residents said they often saw Shirinian working on his two Toyota 4Runners in the building's garage.

``He's definitely not a person you get good vibes from,'' said Lisa Eriksson, 36, who lives in the apartment downstairs from Shirinian.

Gerbs described Shirinian as ``pushy,'' often complaining about his neighbors. His most recent complaint, Gerbs said, was about Farhadian's refusal to give him another parking space at the complex.

``He seemed to have killed anybody he had had an argument with in the past five years,'' he said.

Shirinian also was ``paranoid'' about Masihi, the mother of two who was often home studying to become a dentist, Gerbs said.

``He said, `Why does she open the door every time I open my door?''' Gerbs recalled. ```Nobody's watching you,' I told him.''

Police said Shirinian was waiting outside Farhadian's apartment late Thursday when he and his adult son returned from shopping.

There was a bench by the door, with a ceramic plaque reading: ``Thank you for removing your shoes (but no switching for better ones when you leave).''

Gerbs said Shirinian and Farhadian had argued in the garage earlier in the day. When Farhadian arrived, police said, Shirinian shot him several times and wounded his son in the shoulder.

Oshin then ran to Masihi's apartment across the building's courtyard, police and witnesses said.

``There was a blood trail,'' Gerbs said.

When Masihi opened the door, Shirinian shot and killed her, while Oshin and Masihi's teenage son and daughter escaped through a back window, police said.

As police approached, witnesses said Shirinian returned to his apartment. With his two sons locked inside a bedroom, he shot himself in the living room, police said.

Neighbors described Farhadian as very sweet and kind. He was deeply religious, attended services three to four times a week, and appeared in church plays.

He last performed in a play called ``Heaven and Hell,'' where he showed the audience the path to heaven, friend Armen Abrahamian said.

He was a contractor who earlier in the day was preparing a bid to remove concrete at his La Crescenta church, which burned down in a fire in December, Abrahamian said.

He recalled that Farhadian would call him in the mornings and sing a religious song, saying, ``This is my song for the day.''

``We would sing the song together,'' he said.

Oshin, who was recovering at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center on Friday, is studious and always was seen with a backpack, said Arin Hovsepian, 14, a friend who lives across the street.

When he heard the gunfire, Arin said, he ran toward the apartment building and saw Farhadian lying on the sidewalk, twitching.

``I just stood there looking at him for 20 seconds. ... I've seen people dead before but I've never seen someone dying,'' he said.

Homicides are rare in Burbank -- this was the second case this year. In 2006, the city recorded one homicide, which stemmed from a domestic dispute, Ferguson said.

Staff Writers Susan Abram and Jason Kandel contributed to this report.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yes the blog lives! (and I mean it this time)

As a Web guy for the esteemed LA Daily News, I supposed it's high time to ramp-up thatonline presence -- so no more hiding behind pseudonyms and ranting about JDorama (though still a worthy subject for occasional musing, because, y'know, the chicks are hot) -- this is (mostly) about business.

Farewell, trafficwindow#2, hello eugenetong.net. Check back here soon for more words, deeds and manias as I migrate the sum of my journalism career here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We're back.

after a brief detour in work-related blogger, the traffic window is open for business again.

happy days.