Archive for October 30, 2015

‘Shields’ of dreams

Fran Shields reflects on her 42-year career with the city of Whittier beside one of her proudest achievements, the 2010 Whittier Police Memorial on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015

‘Hand it to Fran’ set to retire on Dec. 4
By Tim Traeger
WHITTIER – Put a starving kid in a candy shop and you have a hint about the career of Fran Shields. They say if one loves what they do, they never work a day in their life. So after 42 years with the city of Whittier, on Dec. 4, 2015, Frances Leone Moretta Shields will retire with zero hours on the books.
Because she’s loved every minute.
Her Italian-borne exuberance as director of parks, recreation and community service has fostered a plethora of too many things that make Whittier a wonderful place to live. Many of the statues and monuments to arts and culture come as a direct result of her passion. So do the multitude of programs that make the some $13 million department she’s ran since 2010 come to life.
When Whittier residents take their dogs to their very own dog park, Fran is there. When they walk or bike the Greenway Trail, Fran is there. When seniors get a nutritious meal every day, Fran is there. When your child goes swimming in a city pool, Fran is there. When the police honor a monument to their lost heroes, Fran is there. When thousands of people come together as a community 12 times a year to hear concerts in the parks, Fran is there.
You might say, Fran has left her legacy everywhere.
Shields was born here 61 years ago and never left. At a lofty 4-foot-nothing, the beloved dynamo said why go anywhere else?
“It’s about quality of life. I’m not just saying that because it’s the stock answer. It IS about the quality of life. It is about what Whittier is in creating that sense of community and making sure people have things to do that are fun and to expand their knowledge.
“The families that come out to the concert series, it’s the best thing we do. We get 3,000 to 4,000 people coming out for one night. And it’s the whole family, grandma and grandpa and the kids. And we’re bringing them together, we’re helping that family unit do something together,” Shields said from her spartan yet smartly decorated office at City Hall.
The Sierra High School grad (before it became a ‘continuation school’) began her career at the city as a police dispatcher in 1975, “her dream job.” She met her husband, Mike, who was working in the city’s fire department, and the union produced two boys, Sean and Brian, and five grandchildren. Titles held along her illustrious career include secretary in recreation, office services supervisor, management assistant, community services manager, director of community services and director of parks, recreation and community services, the longest title held by any city employee.
In 2000 she returned to academia and earned her bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of La Verne.
People don’t want to see her go. She has a fervent hand in many Whittier institutions including the Whittier Cultural Arts Commission, “Activate Whittier” and the Whittier Community Foundation, which has raised more than $400,000 for programs in Quakertown, including the Police Memorial of 2010.
“It was one of the biggest highlights of my career,” she said.
Aside from presiding over the city’s 22 parks, two senior centers, 54 full-time employees, 200 part-time workers and 100 volunteers, Shields has served as president of the Whittier Police Officers Association and spearheaded the Art in Public Places initiative, which was paid for with a half-percent tax placed on any development worth more than $250,000.
“The arts are really special to me. When I started working with the Cultural Arts Commission, it was like opening a new world to me. The Art in Public Places program, we have 14 pieces, all came under my watch,” Shields said.
Fran is an enigma in a world frustrated by governmental bureaucracy. And her humble smile is endearing. She said a tight-knit community like Whittier is unique because it cares about its people.
“And that’s it. They talk about traditions. They’re family values, they’re supporting each other. That’s what it’s all about.”
In retirement Shields said she will continue her penchant for stitching and crafting. She’s also held a longstanding love of dancing. She proudly pointed to a simulated disco ball trophy she earned in 2014 while participating in the Soroptimist Club’s “Dancing With The Whittier Stars” gala.
Fran is afraid of flying, so she and Mike will place a great strain on their motorhome in the years ahead. She said her dream is to take time off from everything and traverse this great nation.
On Thursday the Whittier Host Lions Club honored Shields for her service at Parnell Park, another one of her favorite recreational haunts and home to Whittier’s only petting zoo. Over the years Shields has helped the service club do great things in bolstering Whittier’s quality of life.
Past Lions Club president and former state sen. Frank Hill said the club got a kick out of ribbing the parks director for what may be the last time.
“You’ve got to hand it to Fran. Because Fran is so short you have to hand everything to her,” Hill said. “Whittier is a great place not because of the great schools, because we have great schools, or the great neighborhoods, because we have great neighborhoods. It’s because of the people. And no one is more special to Whittier than Fran. She retired after 42 years, but it was never a job to her. It was all about her passion and commitment to the city.”
White-Emerson protégé Paul White then presented Shields with a bouquet, assuring her they were NOT stolen from the longtime Whittier mortuary.
Fellow roaster and Lions Club past president Eric Day told Fran to grab a seat up front. “Let your legs dangle, they won’t hit the floor.”
What was the worst thing about her 42-year tenure?
A teary-eyed Shields simply said:

Tim Traeger is executive director of the Whittier Historical Society and former editor of the Whittier Daily News.

A solution for our parks problem?

Erv Ulbrich

By Erv Ulbrich

When I moved here 50-plus years ago, Whittier was building out as a bedroom community serving the industrial enterprises all over Los Angeles and Orange counties.

It had some parks, lots of trees, and many ranch houses. The CCNRs where I bought a house in Mar Vista Heights specified ranch houses only. As time went on, there were some parks added, most notably Palm Park, Leffingwell Park and Hellman Park. Many of the parks were improved, especially Parnell Park.

The population, however, expanded rapidly from about 60.000 to 100,000 people, and today, many of the parks can be seen to be quite crowded. On a holiday, Michigan Park has so many cars that they overflow into the local neighborhoods. A parking limitation has been set up for Hellman Park, etc.

In the longer run, there is not much room in Whittier for more parks and some of the new construction of three-story townhouses even has been relieved of the requirement to put up money for more parks because there is no local land. This is obviously one of the sticking points in the ongoing Nelles negotiations where the most recent plan is for more or less 10 residences per acre with no real parks for soccer or tennis or picnics.

As luck would have it, in the early 1990’s various oil fields next to the city became available and were purchased by the city using county park funds known as Proposition A funds. A committee was organized by the Parks Department in 1993 to figure out how to manage the park.

Quite a few thousand acres were ultimately involved, and the committee came up with a management plan for the park’s use by hikers, horses (not overnight), and mountain bikes. Some moneys became available and the Park, renamed a Preserve, started to operate. In about 2007, it was decided by the city to lease some of the park to an oil company for a proposed 60 oil wells.

This set off a fracas among the citizens and resulted in several lawsuits that ultimately resulted in preventing the oil drilling in perpetuity. Meanwhile, the Puente Hills Landfill closed which impacted the operation of the Preserve. It is hard is get the latest data but as many as 300,000 people a year are reportedly using some part of the Preserve for recreation. It is convenient to approximately 500,000 people.

As things have come out in the last few years, the move by OPEC to manipulate the oil market intended to drive out the frackers and retain OPEC’s market share is working and they say they will continue it for eight more years. Earlier estimates are that the oil wells in the Preserve would have been in tertiary production producing oil at $70 per barrel in the face of the current market prices of $45 per barrel.

The royalty-based deal that the city had with the driller would have been worthless and the driller besides would have had to invest big money in the wells.

So it would seem that the solution to the problem of too few parks is at hand: use some or all of the Preserve for a city of Whittier or L.A. County park. In some more distant time, the Preserve could become part of the slowly happening San Gabriel Mountain National Forest / Monument / Park.

But for now, there is a need for more recreational areas for Whittier. These areas need not interfere very much with the wildlife in the Preserve who think nothing of leaving the Preserve. Deer, raccoons and coyotes are seen all over Whittier already.

There are seven gates to the Preserve and a sensible place to start would be those gates that have an area internal to the Preserve that offers parking that will not bother neighbors. Hellman Park is probably a candidate. Another one is the top of Turnbull Canyon Road where at one time a cemetery was planned. Probably the most developed is the entrance at the Catalina Gate where the oil trucks were to go.

There is a good space there for picnics and access under Colima to the Preserve east of Colima. Another place that might work is the Savage Canyon which is currently the dump but which someday will be full.

In general, access is better on the Whittier side than on the Hacienda Heights side but many of the streets that end at the Preserve cannot support parking inside the Preserve. At one time, the oil field roads were to be converted to trails but the old roads were kept in consideration of oil drilling. Now they might be considered to be like the roads in Griffith Park which are getting an international reputation.

When the original committee was done with the management plan, we were all allowed to take our cars onto the existing roads in the Preserve for one afternoon. Some of these were quite steep and dangerous requiring good redesign for park use.
In the long run, those areas near a well-designed system of parks should greatly build up the real estate values in the neighborhoods nearby just as the Los Feliz area has been built up by Griffith Park.

Careful design must be done to avoid some of the problems of traffic in Griffith Park like Christmas light shows, miniature railroads, the planetarium, the zoo, etc..
If the park is to be useful, there must be shade especially as global warming continues.

This indicates trees and in the original plans these trees would have been Valley Oaks and California Sycamores. As the ambient temperatures rise, other trees may have to be considered. One that is naturally thriving is the Modesto Ash. Areas of sagebrush might be nice.

There must be some form of irrigation for the trees but gray water may be a solution. Obviously there will need to be labor from the Park Department, perhaps not for the expert grooming that they do to the current parks. In addition, fire protection for the city should be paramount.

I was here the last time it burned and it was scary. The adobe, hot water deposits and rocks underlying areas of the park may also offer problems.

So, what should be done? The existing city management has not done much for the last 20 years when they were handed a management plan by the citizen’s committee. The current parks budget is probably quite limited. It would seem reasonable for another citizen’s committee to re-examine the problem.

Is there really a need? Is there really too little parking? Where should we start? Who should own the park, the city or the county? What should be the interface to the Preserve? How long will the park be open each day? How will it be patrolled? Will Hacienda Heights and other involved cities have a say? What will we name the park? Will other parks follow?

We cannot move on all the possibilities, however, there may be enough money in the city budget to start one park. Maybe some developer could be the source of some funds as part of a future development. ($5 million was excused as I remember for the Gables development.)

Perhaps the county parks department could suggest a county park as nice as the one in La Mirada (but no golf course). The best part of our situation is that the land is already purchased by the city using county funds.

The future of Whittier is at stake. Will it be a bedroom town with trees and parks and space or will we allow apartment buildings like the Mosaic Gardens to be built right to the sidewalk in the manner of Hong Kong. Will we line the streets with three-story townhouses that are 20 percent stairs in the name of getting 100 people to live on one acre so as to maximize rent?

If the city and the county will not move, maybe it is time for the citizens to organize the effort and then get some management who can get the job done.

If anybody would like to talk more about this, I am available most of the time at 562-696-4886 or I have enjoyed parks since 1937 starting in the local parks and then the Forest Preserves surrounding Chicago.

I have used the city parks here almost daily since 1963 and I have seen them get more crowded. I am a member of the Audubon Society, the Arbor Day Society, the California State Park Association, the National Park Association, and sometimes the Whittier Conservancy (for parks more than keeping old houses).

I could pursue the suggested committee but my age and health indicate that a younger person will have a better chance to get things done. I read that there are now 75 million people in the millennial generation; maybe they could do it.

The first citizen’s committee was managed by the Whittier Parks Department. They should be interested because most in places that is part of their job description. Their success on the Greenway Trail should point the way.

Irv Ulbrich is a 50-plus-year resident of Whittier and a founding member of Whittier Hills Oil Watch.


‘Bordertown’ coming to our town

New TV series fetes skills by Alcaraz, MacFarlane

By VMA Communications

WHITTIER – Celebrated syndicated cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz will present a talk and advance screening of his new animated TV series, “Bordertown,” at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 as Rio Hondo College continues its first-ever Fall Lecture Series.

Alcaraz, author of the nationally syndicated “La Cucaracha” comic strip and a well-known satirist on immigration issues, is a consulting producer and writer for the series, which is executive produced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. The series follows the lives of two neighbors – an immigrant and a border patrol agent – living along the U.S.-Mexico border in the fictitious state of Mexifornia.

It will air on Fox starting in January 2016. In addition to the screening, Alcaraz will provide commentary about the program before what is expected to be a full house at the College’s Wray Theater, 3600 Workman Hill Road, Whittier. The presentation is the second of three in the College’s first Fall Lecture Series, a multi-disciplinary effort that features writers, artists and activists known nationally for their talent and focus on human rights.

The series launched Sept. 23 with renowned sculptor Mario Chiodo, whose works have been praised for their focus on social issues and display of deep human character and emotion. It concludes Thursday, Nov. 5 with LGBT rights scholar and activist Dr. Ronnie Sanlo.

“We wanted to provide authentic learning opportunities for our students that would inspire their social consciousness while providing a real-world perspective to the topics they are studying in their courses,” said Dr. Robert Holcomb, Ph.D., Rio Hondo’s Dean of Communications & Languages.

The lecture series was Holcomb’s inspiration, tying together programs from his division with thematically similar events planned by colleagues at the Division of Arts and Cultural Programs and the Office of Student Life and Leadership. Each speaker is known not only for possessing a unique voice, but for using his or her talents to promote social justice – a concept integrally linked with Rio Hondo College’s dedication to providing access to higher-education opportunities for all members of its community, especially those that are under-represented.

Sanlo, for example, will screen the 2014 documentary, “Letter to Anita,” which relates the impact of her decision to come out as a lesbian during Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in the 1970s. Sanlo will comment on the documentary and join a post-screening discussion. Director Andrea Meyerson will also attend.

“Talks by figures such as Mr. Chiodo, Mr. Alcaraz and Dr. Sanlo enrich our learning environment and generate a meaningful dialogue among our campus community,” said Rio Hondo College Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “Their focus on social justice will help deepen and underscore the learning that goes on our Rio Hondo College classrooms.”

Board of Trustees President Madeline Shapiro said the speakers selected represent more than a cross-section of the Southern California arts community.

“These individuals are all highly relevant to our student body – their work has a well-observed impact in our communities. Speakers of this stature send a message of high expectations and cultural relevance to our students,” Shapiro said.