Pasadena Resident one of 1,400 Americans Stuck in Peru

Local resident among 15 US citizens in hotel waiting to get home

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 3/23/2020

Pasadena resident Sean Stewart is one of about 1,400 Americans who are stuck in Peru as of Sunday after Peru became the lone South American country to completely shut down its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Stewart, 26, and his friend David Lockwood, 29, arrived in Peru for vacation on February 25.

The pair work as firefighters for the Oregon-based company Inbound LLC, which provides wild land fire suppression support across the United States.

“The US embassy has been virtually silent,” Stewart told Pasadena Now. “All resources are dwindling especially for gringos stuck here. Many people are being turned away from hostels and hotels because Peruvians fear that we all have the virus. Peruvians are genuinely good people but the situation is changing by the hour as people get more and more desperate.”

Stewart and Lockwood visited Cusco, the Lost City of Machu Picchu and the jungle city of Iquito, which is only accessible by plane or boat via the Amazon River. Stewart nearly got stranded in Iquito, but secured a flight to Lima, Peru’s capital city, at the last minute. An airline attendant told him not to tell anyone else that he got the last seat on that flight.

They are currently staying at a Holiday Inn next to the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. About 15 Americans in their 30s, from Los Angeles and Alabama, are at that hotel, along with about 30 British citizens who are also stranded.

Stewart said police harass them when they leave the hotel to try to get food, demanding to see their passports and asking them where they’re going. They’re under curfew with mandatory arrest after 6 p.m. As of Friday, they were told they couldn’t leave the hotel at all.

Peru is allowing humanitarian flights but the United States isn’t sending them. Other countries such as Israel, Mexico, Chile and South Korea have sent humanitarian planes to retrieve their citizens, but the United States, Canada, Spain and the UK so far have not. Stewart and Lockwood spoke to one 30-year-old British woman who has no money and was sleeping on the streets of Lima. Israel has exfiltrated 1,000 of its citizens.

On Thursday, a couple of plane tickets to Mexico City became available and the group of stranded Americans let older people with kids take the tickets. Those citizens are now back in the United States.

The day before Peru implemented the lockdown, Stewart had a plane ticket, but his flight was canceled. He spent 15 hours at the airport trying to get what ended up being a non-existent LATAM flight.

On Thursday, President Trump said in a press briefing that the US military is going to help Americans in Peru get home.

“We have a group of young people in Peru and we’re working on taking care of that with the military,” Trump said. He then went on to blame the Americans for their plight, saying, “They got caught, they were late with their flights, we gave them a period of time, they didn’t make it, but we’re looking to get them out probably through the military.”

Flights were canceled with very little, if any, notice in most cases and Americans including Stewart spent several hours at the airport trying to get new flights.

It is unclear what Trump meant by “we gave them a period of time, they didn’t make it.” Defense Department spokesman Chris Mitchell told The Hill that the military “had received no requests for assistance in connection with Peru and evacuating Americans there.”

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government is working to bring Americans home. Americans are also stranded in Morocco.

“We’re urging individuals when they can get back on their own — they traveled there on their own — when they can travel back on their own, they ought to try to do that,” he said. “We have a team at the State Department, the Repatriation Task Force, that is working each of these instances. We’ve heard from individuals and members of Congress. We’re trying to get Americans back from these places where air travel has been disrupted. And we will get that done over time.”

Pompeo added that Americans stuck abroad should register at step.state.gov in order to be tracked (although he incorrectly stated the URL as “step.gov”). Stewart said he registered on Tuesday but that “they haven’t done much so far.”

Stewart reached out to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fresno) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Oakland) and spoke to their aides. Stewart spoke directly to Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), who represents parts of Los Angeles and said he would pass the information along.

Stewart said he heard that California has issued a stay-at-home order. Still, he said, “I just want to be there.”

On Saturday, February 22, 2020, Justin witnessed Mad Mike Hughes' fatal rocket launch in Barstow, California. Justin filmed the entire launch and posted it to Twitter, which went viral with 5 million views in three days, garnering significant national and international media attention. He is quoted or mentioned in hundreds of articles across the country. Here are some of the highlights:


Photo by James Carbone

Mayor to Lead Delegation to Pasadena’s African Sister City

Pasadena residents welcome to join delegation to Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, from March 10-19

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 2/3/2020

The Pasadena Sister Cities Committee announced that Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek will lead a delegation to Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, Pasadena’s African sister city, from March 10-19.

“Next month, the trip to Dakar-Plateau will serve to complete the official bilateral commitment,” said Boualem Bousseloub, chair of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee’s Senegal Subcommittee.

“The Pasadena delegation will tour Dakar for educational and cultural purposes. During the trip, we hope to fortify our commitment to a meaningful and fruitful exchange of ideas for the exploration of Senegal’s place in the history of the African diaspora, the establishment of youth programs including student exchange and STEM events. An appreciation of the arts, literature and music of the two sister cities will also be highlighted.”

The trip will include meetings with officials and ceremonial activities, as well as a tour of the city of Dakar and visits to its open-air markets, museums, cathedrals and mosques. Dakar is 96 percent Muslim, though tolerant of other religions. Easter and Christmas are government holidays, for instance, and Muslim residents often have Christmas trees in their homes.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy also informed the Pasadena delegation that while Senegal is a conservative society, it is making positive progress on LGBTQ rights and there have been no recent active persecutions against LGBTQ people.

The delegation will also visit Gorée Island and its “Door of No Return,” a UNESCO World Heritage site that served as the infamous gateway of slavery to the Western Hemisphere, as well as Legu Village, St. Louis and Retba Pink Lake.

In June a delegation of Dakar-Plateau officials came to Pasadena, led by the city’s mayor Alioune Ndoye.

The Pasadena City Council approved Dakar-Plateau as Pasadena’s sixth sister city – and the first one in Africa – in August 2018, following an exploratory delegation to Senegal led by Bousseloub and Pasadena City Council member John Kennedy in March 2018.

Dakar-Plateau has a population of nearly 37,000 and is one of 19 district communes of Senegal’s capital of greater Dakar, with each district commune having its own city government. Dakar-Plateau serves as greater Dakar's political, financial and commercial center. Dakar is the westernmost city on Africa’s mainland, with a population of 1 million.

Senegal is not without its political turmoil, however. In March 2018, as the Pasadena delegation was touring Dakar-Plateau, the mayor of greater Dakar, Khalifa Sall, was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzling $3.4 million and falsifying documents. Sall and Dakar’s city government is not involved in the sister cities relationship between Dakar-Plateau and Pasadena.

Bousseloub envisions extensive exchange opportunities between the two cities, including police officers, doctors, students, faculty and administrators of schools and universities, scientists, artists, musicians, business executives and athletes. Ultimately, he would like to see the creation of an annual Pan-African Market and Arts Festival at the Rose Bowl, and invite all of the African consulates in L.A. to participate.

The idea of partnering cities grew out of the Twin Town concept in Europe in 1946 following World War II. Ludwigshafen, Germany was selected in 1948 by the Pasadena branch of the American Friends Service Committee. America’s involvement came in 1956 following President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy, out of which grew Sister Cities International. Pasadena formally established its Sister Cities chapter in 1960.

“The Pasadena Sister Cities Committee worked long and hard to find an appropriate African sister city,” Tornek said. “The wonderful visit of the delegation from Dakar-Plateau confirmed that they made a great selection. Now it is our turn to continue the process and strengthen the relationship by traveling to Dakar-Plateau. Having visited all five of our other sister cities, I look forward to continuing this process next month and hope others will join our delegation.”

In June, the Senegalese delegation met with Pasadena officials and visited the Rose Bowl, Caltech, the Tournament House, schools, museums and other Pasadena landmarks.

“I’m pleasantly surprised to discover a city that is human in its dimension,” Ndoye said between back-to-back Gold Cup soccer games at the Rose Bowl on June 15, featuring Canada vs. Martinique and Mexico vs. Cuba. “Pasadena is a very pleasant, beautiful and clean city. I find the city to be well-organized, humane and friendly. We are pleased to be involved in this program, and as we go we feel the pleasantness of the relationship. I’m hoping this partnership between Dakar-Plateau and Pasadena becomes a useful relationship between the two cities, highlighting education, scientific research, business and trade, culture, the exchange of people and questions of city management like waste, traffic and parking.”

Pasadena residents are welcome to join the upcoming delegation to Dakar-Plateau. Registration is now open and closes on Feb. 5. Depending on the number of participants, the approximate cost of the trip is $3,999 per person, which includes airfare, hotel, excursions and most meals.

To register or for more information, email psccafrica@gmail.com or click here. A deposit of $1,500 is due by this Wednesday, Feb. 5, and the balance of $2,499 is due Feb. 10.

The Pasadena Sister Cities Committee is also offering an exchange program this summer for students, ages 16 to 29, with five of its six sister cities: Ludwigshafen, Germany; Mishima – Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan; Järvenpää, Finland; Vanadzor, Armenia; and Xicheng District – Beijing, China. The deadline to apply is Feb. 20. Exchanges with Dakar-Plateau will begin next year.

For more information, visit passcc.org.



Reporter's Notebook: More From Last Week's West Side Candidates' Forum

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 1/27/2020

Chapman covered and helped moderate last Thursday’s forum held by several neighborhood groups in West Pasadena. Topics not included in his original story, include transportation and the Pasadena Way. A summary of the candidates’ closing statement is also included.

Participants in the mayoral race were Mayor Terry Tornek, District 5 Councilmember Victor Gordo, former Senior Commissioner Jason Hardin, and businessman Major Williams. In District 6, Councilmember Steve Madison faced off against challengers attorney Tamerlin Godley and nonprofit executive Ryan Bell. [Watch the forum here.]

On transportation

Williams called for a reimagining of how people move around the city. “We should implement an [automatic] walkway system like at the airport,” he said. “I’m working with tech guys right now come up with versions of that.”

Tornek said there’s a misconception that the city’s General Plan is anti-automobile.

“That’s not what it says,” he said. “It says we want to offer options to people. We’ve been enhancing our transit system and developing a more sensible system of bike paths around city, but we need to be realistic about how we achieve this.”

Godley also called for a realistic approach. “No one wants the congested nightmare that is the west side, but we need to stop our wishful thinking about mass transit,” she said. “We need to offer real incentives to get people out of their car.”

Hardin said he’s a strong advocate and user of mass transportation.

Bell said people won’t suddenly stop driving, but pointed out that the best cities are ones in which people can get around

without the use of a car. He called for mass transit to be free, go to more places and operate more frequently.

Gordo called for sustainability and better metrics of the impacts of transportation projects, and Madison pointed to improving intersections. “We will be forced by climate change to be smarter about our transportation solutions,” he said.

On ‘the Pasadena Way’

Pasadena prides itself on citizen involvement—known as the “Pasadena Way”—yet many residents feel that City Council has ignored their desires or recommendations. One example in which West Pasadenans felt ignored was the addition of a public bathroom at Desiderio Park.

Tornek defended the city’s process for making decisions and argued that just because the Council disagrees with a resident’s or a citizen group’s point of view, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.

Godley said people are looking for more transparency and honesty in their city government.

Williams agreed, saying city leadership is not effectively communicating to its citizens.

Hardin said he would work to “change the Pasadena Way,” which he and Bell argued doesn’t represent everyone in the city. Hardin also called for citizens to get more involved in city government.

Bell called for setting up listening sessions in areas such as Northwest Pasadena to make sure their voices are heard.

Gordo pointed out that elected officials have a responsibility to listen to their constituents.

Madison encouraged people to get involved in a city commission.

As for the bathroom at Desiderio, he added, “We haven’t heard the last of that issue.”

Closing statements

Bell said that the City Council is made up of landlords. As a tenant, he said he’d work to find housing solutions and “make Pasadena work for everyone.”

Godley pointed out that there was only one woman on the dais, and that the city would benefit from having a woman’s voice on the City Council.

Madison touted his record on the Council and pledged to maintain west Pasadena’s “great neighborhoods.”

Gordo said that if elected mayor, “It will never be ‘my way or the highway.’” He pointed out that he was one of the first to oppose bringing an NFL team to the Rose Bowl and that he consistently voted against the 710 tunnel.

Hardin said he’s not running to represent the city, but rather to represent the city’s people. He said his innate passion and curiosity in the issues facing the city will serve him well in office.

Tornek said he’s made progress on all of the issues he ran on four years ago. He said he worked behind the scenes to convince Metro and elected officials to abandon the 710 tunnel, that he understands “how the game is played” and how to get things done.

Williams said he is in the race to win it. He pointed out that he was the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring.


West Pasadena neighborhood associations hear from candidates

District 6, mayoral contenders make their case

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 1/24/2020, Photos by Brian Biery

[First of two parts] Each of the Pasadena mayoral and District 6 City Council candidates laid out their views on issues facing West Pasadena last night at a forum hosted by three neighborhood associations: the West Pasadena Residents’ Association (WPRA), the Linda Vista-Annandale Association (LVAA) and the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association (MHNA). [Watch the forum here.]

About 200 people attended the forum at Maranatha High School, which was moderated by WPRA treasurer Blaine Cavena along with WPRA Advisory Council members Vince Farhat and this reporter, Justin Chapman.

Mayor Terry Tornek faces three challengers in the March 3, 2020, election: District 5 Councilmember Victor Gordo, former Senior Commissioner Jason Hardin, and businessman Major Williams. In District 6, Councilmember Steve Madison faces two challengers: attorney Tamerlin Godley and nonprofit executive Ryan Bell. At the forum, all seven candidates answered questions on homelessness, development, reclaiming the 710 stub, affordable housing, suicide prevention on the Colorado Street Bridge and more.

The candidates agreed on a number of issues, such as maintaining natural open space in the lower Arroyo Seco. But there were also clear distinctions between the candidates on other issues.

On homelessness and affordable housing

Pasadena, along with the rest of California, is experiencing a housing crisis, which contributes to homelessness and causes families to leave Pasadena, resulting in lower enrollment at Pasadena Unified School District schools and thus school closures.

Godley argued that the city “needs to push the county to fund and scale up existing [homelessness services] programs.”

Hardin said the issue is dear to him because he has experienced homelessness. He said he takes it very seriously and called for the creation of an Affordable Housing Commission.

“Inclusionary housing needs to be strengthened constantly,” he said.

Bell, a tenants’ rights activist, recalled how his landlord in Northwest Pasadena raised his rent by 110 percent, after which he discovered there were hardly any protections for tenants in the city. “I’m a strong advocate for rent control,” he said. “People can’t afford to stay where they are.”

Gordo called for a comprehensive strategy on affordable housing. “We won’t build our way out of this,” he said, adding that housing and homelessness are regional issues. “Pasadena needs to reclaim its seat on the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.”

Madison pointed to his strong support of raising the minimum wage and the number of affordable units in the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to 20 percent. “In addressing the gap between the haves and have nots, it’s important to remember living and fair wages,” he said.

Williams said he’s met with residents and stakeholder groups such as Union Station. “I want to know what services are available and what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “We need to focus on the economics so people can make more and afford housing.”

Tornek pointed out that this is the number one issue people raise when he goes door to door. “Pasadena is one of two cities in San Gabriel Valley that experienced a decline in homelessness,” he said. “But we have a long way to go; on any given night there are 300 people sleeping on the streets, which is just not acceptable. We have to preserve existing affordable housing and make use of city land.”

On local zoning control

In the last couple of years, in an effort to address the housing crisis, the state has passed laws that constrain the ability of local cities to set their own land use policies.

Hardin said he was in favor of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a way to help generate much needed housing.

“I understand people have concerns with protecting single family homes. These adjustments won’t demolish those neighborhoods but will create an incentive to create affordable housing. We should comply and increase our stock in affordable housing.”

Bell said local control is ideal, but that the city doesn’t operate in a vacuum. “Pasadena hasn’t been the worst at this but a lot of cities haven’t done what they can and should do to create housing opportunities for people in need and the middle class,” he said. “I would not be in favor of litigation. That money should go towards building affordable housing. The panic over ADUs is overblown. Not everyone will build an ADU, and those who do will help alleviate the shortage of housing.”

Gordo stressed that the city shouldn’t let anyone take away its local control, especially when Pasadena is doing its part in regards to affordable housing. “The state is penalizing the city and its residents for what other cities haven’t done,” he said. “It’s already affecting the fabric of our city. It’s very real and we need to push back. This one-size-fits-all approach the state is taking is wrong.”

Madison argued that since the state forced the city to lift its moratorium on ADUs, there hasn’t been a flood of new ADUs built. However, he added that “we have to have local zoning control.”

Williams said he supports ADUs but would like to revisit the issue in two years to evaluate the impact they’re having. “We need to create opportunities for people,” he said. “Some [zoning and housing related] decisions have been detrimental to lots of communities in the city.”

Tornek said he raised the idea of suing the state over these state-imposed restrictions in his State of the City address last year, but has since become persuaded that that’s not the most effective response. “I don’t want Pasadena to be put in the bucket of being ‘housing resistant,’” he said. “We need to lead by example by working to modify the legislation and I’ve already begun those discussions.”

Godley argued that ADUs will create congestion and parking issues. “We need to think creatively [about housing],” she said, citing examples such as renting-to-own, subsidies, and artist collectives.

On suicide prevention on the Colorado Street Bridge

The city recently hired architects to design suicide prevention barriers for the Colorado Street Bridge and presented several designs.

Gordo said the city should do everything it can to prevent suicides. “That includes better mental health programs and making sure the county does its part,” he said. “We should look at all alternatives.”

Madison pointed out that a new community lives below the bridge and said he supported the city manager’s decision to install temporary barriers. “I do support some [physical] solution,” he said. “We have a consultant studying it now and we will have public meetings starting in February. I’m confident we can come up with a solution.”

Williams also supported temporary barriers but argued that city resources should be going to affordable housing and homelessness, rather than consultants. “I think more pressing issues in terms of resources and funds should solely be focused on affordable housing and homelessness,” he said.

Tornek agreed that the temporary fencing was appropriate. “We can’t tolerate our iconic bridge being identified as the go-to location for suicide in the region,” he said. “We have to be honest: no matter what physical barrier is installed, it won’t be an aesthetically pleasing item compared to how it looked before the fencing.”

Godley said she’s glad the consultants have been hired to study the issue. “We need to look at what mental health services the county will provide,” she said. “We need to have a good relationship with the county.”

Hardin called for adding artwork and murals to the bridge as a way of changing the minds of those attempting to take their own lives. “If we just change the structure of it, they’ll just find another bridge,” he said. “Also, it will be expensive to maintain any physical barrier. Instead, we can do a one-time redecoration of the bridge to pay tribute to those who lost their lives there.”

Bell said he’d rather affect the visual image of the bridge than have it remain known nationwide as a place where people commit suicide. “We need to do everything we can to address the other issues, such as the sense of despair in this economy.”