After 5-month search, NLMUSD hires new superintendent

NORWALK – After a five-month search, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District nabbed a new superintendent from Imperial County on Monday. Hasmik Danielian, a former teacher and principal, comes to the NLMUSD after a four-year stint as superintendent at Brawley Union High School District.

Before serving in Brawley, Danielian was associate superintendent of secondary schools for Hacienda La Puente Unified and a dean of students, high school principal, and teacher at the Glendale Unified School District for 17 years.

“It will be a privilege to serve as the Superintendent of NLMUSD with such an established culture and tradition of excellence,” said Danielian in a district press release.

“Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District has earned the much-deserved reputation for providing remarkable educational programs for all students in an exceptionally supportive community environment.”

The NLMUSD board of education approved a three-year contract, which begins on July 1 at a starting salary of $230,000 not including benefits. Former NLMUSD superintendent Ruth Perez, who resigned last September earned $205,000 without benefits at the time of her departure.

Danielian will replace Ginger Shattuck, who retired as NLMUSD superintendent in 2009, but was appointed as interim superintendent last September until a new superintendent was chosen.

District officials interviewed six candidates out of a pool of 18 applicants after receiving input from more than 100 stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, staff and community representatives. After an in-person visit to Brawley, the NLMUSD board offered the position to Danielian.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Danielian aboard,” said NLMUSD board president Jesse Urquidi.

“She is a strong, collaborative leader who is committed to open communication and helping us continue our mission of offering high-quality educational programs that help students reach their college and career goals.”

Danielian received her doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Southern California and master’s degrees in bilingual education and curriculum and supervision from University of La Verne and Point Loma Nazarene University respectfully.

The school board voted 5 to 2 in favor of Danielian’s contract.

Those voting to approve the proposed contract were board members Sean Reagan, Ana Valencia, Darryl Adams, Jesse Urquidi and Karen Morrison.

Board members Margaret Rios and Chris Pflanzer voted against the contract.

Prior to the vote, various speakers took turns with their allotted three minutes to express their dissatisfaction with the process to select the next superintendent.

Most reminded the board that they were not protesting Danielian, but rather the process that was utilized to choose the new district leader for the next three years beginning July 1.

Wayne Shannon, assistant superintendant of human resource for the district, was mentioned several times as a preferred choice by teachers.

Shannon was named district Administrator of the Year at the recent STAR awards ceremony. He was also an early candidate for the position of superintendant.

Kelly Rush, president of the TANLA teachers’ union, pointed out that only three school board members attended the STAR awards ceremony.

“Commanders listen to the troops in the field,” said Clay Walker, president-elect of TANLA.



Published: May 21, 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 06

Mendoza pushes for facilities bond on 2016 ballot

MONTEBELLO − Sen. Tony Mendoza told a gathering of regional education officials last Friday that he’d support a statewide facilities bond to increase funding for school infrastructure needs. “If the state passes the bond, it’s like a new credit card bill for 30 years,” he said. “But it’s a very good investment. Our schools will benefit and our kids will benefit.”

Mendoza, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, made the comments on the campus of Applied Technology Center High School in Montebello during an address on the state of education in the 32nd district.

The former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher reiterated his support for the local schools in his district, which encompasses the majority of southeast L.A County. Mendoza vowed his support through not only state funding, but also a series of Senate bills intended to bolster student health and curriculum.

“You know my background, you know where I stand. We want to make sure we get as many resources back to our classrooms – that’s always been my intent,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s proposed education bills include measures to increase oversight of charter schools, eliminate drug manufacturing near schools, mandate immunizations for all child care workers, and expand dual language student programs.

Edgar Cabral, fiscal and policy analyst for the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office, also spoke during the education meeting, previewing Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2015-2016 spending plan.

“There will be more money in the budget [for education] than last year – an additional $1-2 billion,” he said. “We’re going back to the levels of spending we had in 2007-08.”

Cabral said the new funds will most likely go towards technical education and adult education, which suffered the most cuts after the Great Recession. However, Cabral maintained that Brown is hesitant to sign off on any new tax or bond measures for school infrastructure.

Wary of going into more debt, Brown is suggesting school districts rely on historically successful local bond measures for infrastructure updates, Cabral said.

Cabral also said Brown does not want to campaign for a statewide facilities bond as Proposition 30 expires. The 2012 measure increased personal income taxes for seven years in California in order to prevent nearly $6 billion in education cuts. Cabral believes the state will seek to renew the tax increases in 2018.

“The governor is looking long term,” said Mendoza in response. “But I believe he has certain expectations that are unreal.”

Andrew Stevens tasked with keeping Downey prepared for disaster

DOWNEY − Andrew Stevens is no stranger to a crisis, but as Downey’s newest emergency services manager, the 35-year-old hopes the city will never have to see one. After three years of vacancy, filling the position with Stevens, a former U.S. Marine and disaster response manager, may indicate a new level of commitment from city officials to think outside the box on matters of emergency preparedness.

“The city manager [Gilbert Livas] reinforced how important this was,” said Stevens, whose last predecessor was an alumni of the Downey Fire Department. “They didn’t just look at me because I’m an outsider, but they wanted to make sure they had the right person for the job.”

Appointed to his position last December, Stevens said he’s ready to tackle Downey's most urgent preparedness need: collaboration.

“Downey has groups working on emergency preparedness, but separate of themselves,” Stevens said. “It’s now about getting all those people in the same room, creating a plan so we can test it and retest it. It’s not about putting [the plan] on a shelf where it will collect dust.”

Stevens, who lives in Torrance, previously directed field operations and volunteer training for the rapid response organization Team Rubicon, which aided victims of Superstorm Sandy and the disastrous tornados in Moore, Oklahoma. He praised Downey for its already passionate volunteers, but promised to bring focus to the department so results are multiplied.

“I’m in a win-win. You already have buy in and Downey is lucky enough to have built resources,” he said. “Coming from outside the traditional realm, I know how to communicate with non-profits, faith-based organizations, and businesses.”

The job comes naturally for Stevens who spent two years working for the state of Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management as a state planner of critical infrastructure protection.

“I worked with subsistent communities that were at constant risk of flooding or catastrophic storms,” said Stevens, who was born in Seattle, but raised in Alaska. “We’d change the disaster into an event by strengthening those communities through key ties with the private sector, energy and telecommunications.”

Stevens said he will seek the same partnerships here to bolster Downey’s preparedness in case of any major disaster.

“Response is a short window, but recovery is where you make or break,” he said. “It takes commitment at the individual level, but I will give every tool in my tool box and I will offer everything in my power.”

The father of two boys, Stevens encouraged residents to participate in the Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) and promised new targeted outreach mechanisms to build awareness of potential emergencies.

“This job doesn’t go away,” said Stevens. “If you think you wrote a plan and you’re good, you’re wrong. We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Who was Albert Ball?

DOWNEY - In an era when brave men and women of all ages ventured into an uncharted West seeking fame and fortune, Albert Louis Ball, a Pennsylvania native, found his gold in California oranges. It was 1877 when Ball, void of family and money, arrived in California. Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania to parents Joseph and Matilda Ball, natives of the Keystone State and Germany respectively, Albert Ball, just 24-years-old at the time, traveled across the country hoping to make a name for himself.

Originally, Ball settled near present day Orange County, working first on the Alamitos Ranch earning just $25 a month. Later, Ball would be employed by the Anaheim Lighter Company where he delivered grain to steamboats at Anaheim Landing, Orange County’s first seaport and seaside recreation area, now Seal Beach.

But in 1890, in addition to serving as both an engineer and fireman for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, Ball started his own business buying, seeding and harvesting Downey farm land for its desirable produce.

Throughout his more than 40 years in Downey, Ball not only established a name for himself, but his successful business would help put Downey on the map as a thriving community of farmers, merchants and innovators. Although not much remains in Downey to remind one of Ball’s accomplishments, the late farmer’s property is still intact though the beautiful, two-story home that once graced the acreage has been all but demolished.

After his marriage to Illinois transplant Birdella Leffler in 1884, Albert Ball, along with his brother and business partner, W.F. Ball, began purchasing large tracts of undeveloped Downey land. In 1890, the brothers bought nearly 71 acres of farm land in northeast Downey near Gallatin Road.

On this first farm, they planted 35 acres of English walnuts, a popular crop, which yielded between $250 and $300 per acre. The site also included four acres of oranges and lemons, four acres of Winter Nellis pears, and 20 acres of alfalfa.

Later, in partnership with his brother and a Mr. T. Woods, Ball would purchase another 100 acres of land, near the James K. Tweedy estate, off of Telegraph-Jaboneria Road, which is now Tweedy Lane. Today, Maude Price Elementary School and Griffiths Middle School reside on the land. Here, Ball planted 45 acres of walnuts and filled the remaining acres with corn and alfalfa.

After launching these farms, however, Ball, as well as other local farmers, began to experience major setbacks. In addition to the growing fight against unfair middlemen’s prices, early Downey farmers also saw acres of crops destroyed as a result of bugs, wind, and frost.

With all of these issues threatening to wipe out the growing industry, Ball and James J. Tweedy formed an orange grower’s exchange in 1893 to help mobilize the community’s farmers to solve these issues. By 1895, the group had evolved into the Ball and Tweedy Sunkist Packing Co., a cooperative that grew, harvested, packed and shipped its own fruit throughout the Los Nietos Valley.

Operated by both families, the Ball and Tweedy Sunkist Packing Co. was located on Firestone Boulevard between Brookshire and Dolan avenues. By the time of Ball’s death in 1927, the company had proved to be a very successful venture for the Tweedys, the Balls, and Downey’s community of citrus farmers.

Following this success, Ball and his wife built three separate homes for their family of five children, two of which married into the Rives family, owners of the Rives Mansion on Paramount Boulevard. The last Ball home, located at 8572 Cherokee Dr., was a large, two-story mansion located on their own personal, 68-acre fruit ranch, which stretched from Lakewood Boulevard to Dolan Avenue.

Birdella Ball planted rows of Cherokee rose bushes on the lane leading to the home, thus the name “Cherokee Drive” came into existence. Built in 1920 for $30,000, the Ball residence once included a huge entry hall, a spacious living room, a music room, formal dining room, a ranch-size kitchen with a service porch and maid’s room - all downstairs.

The second floor featured two and a half bathrooms, five bedrooms, a sewing room and an office. Designed in Spanish Colonial style by Los Angeles architect H.H. Whitely, the rectangular structure sported a red tile roof and arched windows. A sheltered porch extended from the home’s main entrance and made a covered carport, supported by round white columns.

After its construction, the Ball mansion was one of the most prominent homes in Downey, situated in the midst of the family’s vast orange groves.

Prior to her death, Birdella Ball sold the home on June 15, 1944 to a Downey physician and his family, Dr. and Mrs. Richard Steere. The Steeres had been in Downey about 10 years at the time as Dr. Steere was involved with the ownership of Downey Community Hospital, now Downey Regional Medical Center.

Steere, who finished medical school at the University of Nebraska, came West himself in the early 1900s, first taking on a public health position in San Francisco, then San Diego. He came to Downey in the 1930s to build his medical practice, and for many years he and his wife would serve as Downey civic leaders.

According to a September 20, 1973 article in the Southeast News, “their home was often the location of large fund raising parties for their favorite philanthropies and interests…one of the biggest parties ever held at the house was to raise money for the hospital. That was about 1959.”

In June of 1973, Dr. Steere died and the home was sold to Bob Maniaci, president of Boman Industries, and his wife, Mary in 1975. The couple, along with their four children took on the task of restoring the home, which needed much renovation after decades of use.

Today, just twelve columns remain, holding up what is left of the historic property.

After initially agreeing to reconstruct the home in 2008, while maintaining its architectural integrity, the Cerros family razed the home, leaving just the foundation intact. Currently, the property is gated and all construction has ceased.

Nevertheless, the large lot once occupied by the home still resides, all that remains of the huge Ball fruit ranch.

Today, Ball can truly be called an American success story, going from a penniless farmer to a wealthy rancher and influential community leader. Though the home is no longer intact, Ball’s life still gives residents today a glimpse into a former world where success came by diligence, perseverance, and camaraderie.



Published: Feb. 19, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 45

Warren High club plans women's empowerment conference

DOWNEY − A small women’s club at Warren High School is stepping outside the four walls of the classroom in two weeks, hosting its first ever empowerment conference for young ladies. Founded in 2012, Ladies Leadership boasts nearly 107 members and is dedicated to empowering young women through mentorship, political engagement and educational opportunities.

Crystal Letona, a senior at Warren High, said the organization is also active in volunteerism, including work at local shelters and even the political campaigns of Wendy Gruel and Sandy Fluke. Letona said the group decided to host its own conference entitled “Future Leaders of Downey” after attending similar events in Los Angeles.

“I’ve never heard of one in Downey before,” said Letona, who is president of Ladies Leadership. “It could be the first in our community.”

The conference will take place at Stay Gallery, located at 11140 Downey Ave., on Jan. 30 from 1-5 p.m. Tickets are $3 and can be purchased at the door.

Ten speakers, including Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, are scheduled to speak on issues related to politics, activism, business and communications. Porto’s Bakery will cater food during the conference’s intermission.

Rives Mansion owner claims tenant stalled renovations, gutted interior

DOWNEY − Owners of the Rives Mansion are refuting allegations made by a former tenant last week that they were irresponsible landlords. While owner Carmen Rivera confirmed the historic Downey landmark is facing foreclosure, she also said she and her husband Oscar evicted tenant Ralph Verdugo after the Downey businessman failed to pull the proper permits and get renovations approved by her.

“I am the victim here. I haven’t done any abuses,” she said. “[Verdugo] delayed and delayed so the property would fall into foreclosure and he could buy it. We’re working with the bank now to modify our payments.”

In July 2013, Verdugo and Rivera signed a seven-year lease to convert the Rives Mansion, located at the intersection of Paramount Boulevard and Third Street, into an upscale steakhouse and wine garden. Last week, Verdugo announced he pulled out of an agreement with the Riveras five months ago after finding out the couple was nearly 60 months behind in mortgage payments.

"It's sad and depressing," said Verdugo, who claimed he spent $400,000 to restore the home's floors, walls, and windows. "I called the owners and they said it was a misunderstanding, but then they stopped returning my calls."

If the Riveras lose the property, Verdugo has the first right of refusal to purchase the home.

Rivera said she lost trust in Verdugo after he failed to seek her approval on renovation plans.

“I was supposed to get a timeline of what he was doing, but he never gave me one,” Rivera said. “I didn’t know what he was doing.”

Verdugo, however, provided the Patriot copies of plans dated Sept. 11, 2013 that were submitted to the city of Downey Building and Safety Division with both his and Rivera’s signature on them.

“She knew what we were doing,” he said. “Black and white proves everything.”

Nonetheless, Rivera said she expected the renovation of the house to wrap up in eight months and promised Verdugo only six months of free rent. According to the lease, Verdugo would be required to make monthly payments, but only after a certificate of occupancy was issued.

Real estate broker and former Downey mayor Kirk Cartozian facilitated the lease at no charge between the two parties and confirmed Verdugo never received a certificate of occupancy.

“I was not the [Rivera’s] listing broker. I had no obligation to her or Ralph…I was impartial,” Cartozian said. “But Ralph’s account is 100 percent accurate. He wanted to be a long-term tenant…he was incentivized to open as soon as possible. I don’t know how Carmen was concerned about rent when she hadn’t paid the mortgage in five years.”

Inside the Rives Mansion, the main floor dining room and kitchen are now completely gutted. An upstairs bathroom has also been stripped down to studs. Verdugo ensures his team was in the process of restoration at the time of eviction, but Rivera is calling the demolition spiteful and unnecessary.

“He maliciously destroyed it so we’d lose it and he could buy it,” said Rivera, who asked investigators to assess the damage. “He put us in jeopardy – we expect up to $350,000 in damages.”