Baby steps

Petitioners in Altadena submit more than 7,000 signatures favoring secession from PUSD

By Andre Coleman and Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/30/2010

After four years of fits and starts, plans for Altadena forming its own school district are now in the hands of Los Angeles County officials.
Daniel Villanueva of the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization (CSDO) confirmed 7,073 signed petitions — 782 more than required — have been turned in to his office by Altadena residents. 
If 6,291 petitions — or 25 percent of the population of the unincorporated mountainside community north of Pasadena — are deemed valid, CSDO, which has 30 days to verify signatures, will hold a meeting Nov. 3 to begin the review process. 
Pasadena Board of Education President Bob Harrison was skeptical of the secession effort.
“I think the group is earnest and is looking out for the kids,” said Harrison, who lives in Altadena. But, he said, “They are trying to come up with a new vehicle and I think they would face the same financial issues our district is facing. It’s probably not going to be feasible.” 
“I admire their diligence,” said Board member Renatta Cooper. 
Three Altadena residents — Bruce Wasson, Maurice Morse and Shirlee Smith — submitted a request to the county to get the petition process underway in early 2006. Morse and Smith, a columnist with the Pasadena Star-News who once wrote a column for this paper, have since backed away from the effort. Wasson did not return phone calls.
After the signatures are verified, a public hearing will be held in Altadena and a comprehensive feasibility study will be conducted by the county. The study — which will look at student enrollment, housing and provide a comprehensive financial overview of creating a new school district — aims to determine how much the Pasadena Unified School District and Altadena will be impacted by the creation of another school district. 

Reporter Justin Chapman contributed to this story. In the spirit of full disclosure, Chapman recommended in late 2005 studying the idea of seceding from the PUSD while serving as a member of the Altadena Town Council. Chapman stopped serving on the board while attending UC Berkeley and has not been active in the school secession issue.

Liberty’s biggest threats

Chemerinsky to speak Sunday at event honoring retiring ACLU head Ramona Ripston

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/30/2010

Constitutional scholar and UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky will be signing and reading from his new book, “The Conservative Assault on the Constitution,” at the annual American Civil Liberties Union Pasadena/Foothills chapter Garden Party Sunday at Neighborhood Church.
This year’s Garden Party will honor Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU-Southern California, who is retiring after 38 years with the organization.
During his talk, Chemerinsky will focus on how political conservatives have changed the Constitution over the past four decades, along with current and future issues facing the US Supreme Court.
“Since Richard Nixon ran for President in 1968, conservatives have sought to remake constitutional law in virtually every area,” Chemerinsky said in a recent interview. 
In the spirit of full disclosure, this reporter was appointed in September to the local ACLU’s board of directors. 
“They have to a very large extent succeeded,” continued Chemerinsky. “Republican presidents and the justices they have appointed have dramatically changed constitutional law.”
His fifth book examines this dynamic by looking at the Supreme Court’s abandonment of equal opportunity in the area of education, the unchecked growth of presidential power, the erosion of the separation of church and state, the diminishing rights of defendants, the curtailment of individual liberties and the increasing restrictions on access to the courts.
But the greatest threats to our liberties, according to Chemerinsky, are ignorance and complacency.
“Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown how little people know of their rights,” he said. “Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that many provisions of the Bill of Rights could not get adopted today. I think that the greatest threat to liberty is people taking it for granted.”
The ACLU Garden Party is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Neighborhood Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena. The $30 suggested donation can be applied toward a one-year ACLU membership upon request. Admission is $10 for students and low-income residents. For more information or to RSVP, call (626) 792-1284 or visit

The heart of it

NYC’s Calpulli Dance Co. brings traditional Mexican dance to Caltech

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/30/2010

Since 2003, a dance company has been capturing the spirit of Mexico by utilizing traditional music, costumes and artistic vision. Founded by artists in New York City, the Calpulli Mexican Dance Co.’s mission is to teach and produce dance-based performance art that incorporates music and theater to promote the rich cultural heritage of Mexico.
Calpulli showcases regional Mexican dances across the United States, including traditional Aztec dance and performances developed in the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Puebla and Vera Cruz. The company seeks to enhance the quality of traditional Mexican dance and make it relevant to contemporary life in North America. 
The performers and teaching artists work all year, with the company’s touring show comprised of 25 dancers and a core of musicians.
“One of the goals of Calpulli is to find the heart of what we know as traditional,” said Artistic Director Daniel Jáquez. “Find how tradition impacts our lives today and honor it using both folk and contemporary forms of expression. It is an exciting, ever-changing road.”
Funded in part by grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and JPMorgan Chase in association with the Queens Council on the Arts, Calpulli also conducts community outreach programs, including collaborating with other arts organizations, schools, libraries, individual artists and the NYC Parks and Recreation Department.
Mexico Vive, Calpulli’s main outreach program, is a summer arts education festival combining performance with interactive workshops. The company also hosts family dance programs for children ages 6 to 10. 

Calpulli performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $16 to $26 or $10 for youth high school age and younger. For a special discount, mention the Caltech Folk Music Society when ordering. Call (626) 395-4652 or visit for more information.

‘I swear, Suzy’

A promise grows into the world’s largest breast cancer awareness group

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/23/2010

In 1982, Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, so named for her sister, who died from the disease two years earlier at age 36. Brinker promised her sister that she would do what she could to end the suffering, and in all that time she has dedicated herself to achieving that goal.
Today, Brinker is CEO of what has become the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the largest nonprofit in the world fighting breast cancer, which since its inception has raised more than $1.5 billion for research and education.
Brinker’s quest continues with the publication of her new book, “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer,” inspired by her sister’s struggle, which she will be discussing and signing Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.
Growing up in Peoria, Ill., the sisters were best friends, so when Komen was diagnosed in 1977 it was devastating news for the younger Brinker. Komen dealt with misinformed doctors, multiple surgeries and several painful sessions of chemotherapy and radiation. In one of their last conversations, Komen asked Brinker to help stop the suffering for other women enduring the same fate.
“Promise me, Nancy,” she said. “Promise me it won’t go on like this.”
“I swear, Suzy,” replied a tearful Brinker, “even if it takes the rest of my life.”
Since that day, Brinker, herself a survivor of the disease who was diagnosed in 1984, has dedicated her life to the fight. The cause has progressed greatly since 1977, when only 74 percent of women suffering with the disease lived five years or longer after being diagnosed. With awareness growing about the importance of early detection and today’s medical advancements, that number today is 98 percent. 
Brinker hopes to raise even more awareness with her book, which chronicles her personal and professional life and provides a historical overview of breast cancer treatment from ancient Egypt to the present, several inspiring stories of women who have survived the disease and a list of resources for women coping with it today. 
Brinker, who has served as ambassador to Hungary and United States Chief of Protocol, and is currently the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations World Health Organization, said the main reason she wrote the book was to tell the world who her sister really was.
“Susan spent her time thinking of ways to make life better for other women battling breast cancer instead of worrying about her own situation,” said Brinker.

Brinker will be reading and signing “Promise Me” at 7 p.m. Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit for more information.

Act II, Scene I

Renowned for his theater criticism, new PCC President Mark Rocha downplays real-life dramas while producing quality education with dwindling funds

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/23/2010

Mark Rocha, Pasadena City College’s new president, is no ordinary bureaucrat. An English professor by training, Rocha commits to teaching at least one course every year, which he will be doing at PCC. Perhaps even more unusual, however, is the renown Rocha’s enjoyed for his scholarly work in the arts, which focuses mainly on criticism and history of American drama, including treatises on playwrights such as August Wilson and Tennessee Williams. His work has been published in several literary and scholarly magazines, which are being used today by directors and actors studying those playwrights. 
But with that said, it also seems fitting that a drama critic — albeit one carrying some controversy of his own from his former job as president of West LA College — would be called on to quell the drama caused by the brief tenure and disappearance of his predecessor, Paulette Perfumo, who around this time last year first took an unexplained leave of absence, then resigned. Lisa Sugimoto, vice president of student and learning services, was appointed to serve on an interim basis during a nationwide search for a new president. After looking at 90 possible candidates, the trustees signed the 57-year-old Rocha to a $230,000-a-year four-year contract.

Running on empty
Rocha comes to Pasadena at a tumultuous time, with PCC, which has a student population the size of some small cities, facing growing enrollment while state lawmakers have yet to pass a budget, leaving students scrambling for available classes and the college itself operating off its reserves. 
On top of that, the state accrediting commission has issued a warning to the college over its planning process.
With the state budget months overdue, colleges across the state are waiting to see how much money they will receive this fiscal year. This problem is compounded by the fact that PCC’s enrollment has reached more than 30,000, up from 21,000 just a few years ago. 
“It’s just ridiculous,” said Rocha. “I’ve never seen a situation like this. I’m running a college with 30,000 students and the state is not sending us a penny. So we are literally living on our reserves.”
State law provides a minimum funding guarantee for school districts, community colleges and other state agencies that provide elementary and secondary instructional programs for kindergarten through grade 14. This fiscal year, of an estimated $119 billion state budget, about $4 billion should go to community colleges. 
“There has been an explosion in demand because of the economic downturn,” said PCC Board of Trustees member Geoffrey Baum. “Doors are being closed at Cal States, schools are reaching overcapacity, and so we have fewer resources to offer. We have to plan without a budget while more people are turning to community colleges.”
“We are better off at PCC than other colleges because over the years we developed a surplus and put aside a reserve,” said Board President Bill Thomson. “We’re not in dire shape right now, but if the state doesn’t work out the budget soon, we’ll be in serious trouble.”
Rocha recently said PCC’s reserve will last until Thanksgiving, at which point the college will need money from the state to continue operating.
Along with that, Rocha is also working on other major issues, specifically academics, addressing the state accrediting commission’s warning by developing an Educational Master Plan.
“We need to put together a new master plan that will make clear goals in the major areas of transfer, associate degrees, preparing students for the 21st century global economy, and bringing on a new generation of faculty,” Rocha said of the four-year plan, which he hopes to present to the trustees in December.
However, questions and challenges remain. “We have to do a better job of providing and accessing the educational services we provide,” said Baum. “How do we account for the outcomes of students who enroll in our programs? Is that consistent among fields? Do we have a planning process that uses evidence in deciding what programs get funding?” 

‘Ancient history’
Besides teaching for 30 years, Rocha also has a 20-year history working in various college administrations, including nine years in the state community college system. He served as vice president of academic affairs at Mission College, associate dean and dean in the Cal State system and provost at Seton Hall University. He received his PhD from USC, his master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton and his bachelor’s from Villanova University.
Prior to heading up PCC, Rocha served as president of West Los Angeles College, near Culver City, where residents and neighborhood leaders are still upset by what they see as a betrayal of the community by leaders of that college.
After the Culver City Council rejected West LA College’s proposal in July to allow it to build more than 350,000 square feet of new development on the campus, the LA Community College District Board of Trustees went around the council and approved the 2009 Facilities Master Plan and the 2010 Supplemental Environmental Impact Report in August. 
Neighborhood associations, the Culver City Unified Board of Education and neighbors of the college cried foul and accused the LACCD of betraying a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the college and its neighbors regarding the proposed development. Representatives of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association and the Raintree Condominiums Association, as well as several neighbors of the college, said their concerns about traffic, noise and pollution were not included in the plans. While construction began in 2006 and was slated to end this year, the college’s new plan expands the construction timeline by an additional three years.
“We had a good relationship with the city and the homeowners,” said Rocha, “but you always have a few who live right by the college that don’t want any kind of a project constructed, and will do whatever they can to block it.”
According to some residents, the next step is legal action against the college.
“At this point, with Rocha gone, I don’t think that anyone at the college is dealing with it. I think they want to dispose of the neighbors and keep building,” John Kuechle, chairman of the West LA College Subcommittee of the Culver Crest Neighborhood Association, told the Culver City Patch news Web site. 
“That just seems like ancient history,” Rocha said. “I’ve got a whole new set of problems over here.”
Baum doesn’t believe these issues will be a distraction for Rocha.
“I don’t think he will be involved with (the development),” said Baum. “For our college and district, the relationship with the neighbors is an important priority. I believe Dr. Rocha will be a good ambassador for our college, maintain a good relationship with the neighbors and we will continue to provide educational opportunities for the community.” 
The faculty association, which had concerns about the way Rocha was hired, isn’t quite as optimistic. 
“I’m neither happy nor unhappy,” said association President Roger Marheine. “This was a decision made by the board despite a tremendous amount of opposition by faculty and staff.”
At the time, the faculty leadership wanted Sugimoto, the interim president who replaced Perfumo, to remain in the position. However, according to PCC Trustee Thomson, Sugimoto made it clear she only wanted to serve a year at the most.
But Rocha, who resides in Sherman Oaks with his wife, Nancy, and sons Brendan and Samuel, said he brings some necessary experience to the table, having served on the negotiating team for LACCD’s last contract.
“I know most of the significant faculty labor leaders in the state, and I think they would describe me as someone who’s inclusive and very open to the interests of the faculty,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll make progress, but it takes time until everyone lays aside the past and moves forward.” 

Stick ’em up

Journalist Robert Scheer explores the roots of the Great Recession

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/9/2010

Robert Scheer stormed the national political scene in the early 1960s as managing editor of Ramparts, the magazine of the New Left of those times, writing exposés throughout the Vietnam and Nixon eras.
He filed numerous investigative reports in the 1970s and ’80s, particularly during the Reagan years — the rise of the New Right — and became an oracle of liberal politics in the politically polarizing aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
Now in his 70s, Scheer, who has penned numerous books, is the author of a syndicated column and editor of Truthdig, a progressive news Web site. Scheer’s latest book on the high-level political chicanery of our times, “The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street,” takes no prisoners on either the left or the right.
In the book, Scheer argues that the heart of the current financial meltdown dates back to Reagan-era free market propaganda and bipartisan deregulation of the banking industry that occurred during the Clinton administration.
“Lobbyists bought the laws they wanted and enabled excessive greed, while the real victims are the people who lose their jobs and their homes,” Scheer told the Weekly.
Scheer said one of his biggest disappointments has been President Obama, who appointed to office some of the same people from the financial “Clinton clique” who favored the deregulation that made this problem possible, such as Lawrence Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
“These people were at the center of great misery,” said Scheer. “Once again, it’s a case of the best and brightest messing the rest of us up.”
Scheer begins his book tour with a reading at 7 p.m. Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit for more information.

Running out of room

Robert Gillespie and Pasadena-based Population Communication get the message out around our ever-shrinking world

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/2/2010

A Pasadena-based organization with only three staff members and a budget of more than a half-million dollars has been researching, analyzing and developing strategies to deal with one of the largest problems of our time: global overpopulation. 
Founded in 1977 by Robert Gillespie, Population Communication has taken an active role in promoting policies that stabilize global population while encouraging national leaders to do the same by committing to solving this enormous problem.
Since Gillespie founded Population Communication, the world has seen nearly 4 billion people added to the population. This alarming trend has caused all sorts of problems for many countries. For more than 50 years, Gillespie has been working to raise awareness about overpopulation and family planning issues in countries around the world by advising governments, delivering health and family planning services, and using art and entertainment to get the message across.

Pasadena Weekly: Tell me about the work Population Communication does.

Robert Gillespie: We work on a global scale. Our primary countries are Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and two states in India. We have 10 different kinds of projects. We advise governments and facilitate with the private sector, we deliver maternal and child health and family planning services to help prevent unwanted pregnancies and unintended births, and we create an environment of empowerment from the cradle to the grave to keep women and children alive, to delay adolescent pregnancies and reinforce the value of small families so it’s beneficial to the children themselves, to their parents and the community as a whole. We determine how the marketing, literacy, credit and government systems within a country can reinforce our objectives. I have been advising governments for more than 50 years on maternal and child health and family planning. We take what has been successful not only within the countries, but around the globe and determine how those success stories can be replicated in those countries that I just named, those priority countries. Some of that replication is very exciting. For example, what’s happening in southern India, how it can be used in northern India. There are very successful programs in Iran, where I lived for six years, which can be useful in Pakistan. 

So you see some progress being made in terms of the programs you’re trying to promote?

There have been very successful efforts in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. Some of the aspects of those programs can be useful in the Philippines. Thailand and Indonesia have been very successful. There’s a very close relationship between where both Bangladesh is and Egypt is and where they need to go to basically achieve replacement-size families. The difficult areas are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa as well as northern India and Pakistan. 

Tell me about the film you helped make, “No Vacancy.”

We made it in 2006 and the objective was to go to countries such as southern India, Indonesia, Mexico and Iran and show how what has been successful there can be useful elsewhere in the world. We also went to Ghana, Nigeria, Eastern Europe. We wanted to cover Africa, Latin America and Asia. It does discuss some American family planning issues, for example the abortion divide and immigration issues. But it doesn’t really focus on anything more than the broader brushstrokes of these issues: population, environment, energy and so forth. It focuses more on where it is we can help countries determine what specifically they can do. 

What are some other ways Population Communication uses art to get its message across?

One of the more fun parts of what I do is arrive in a country and organize meetings with motion picture script writers to develop screenplays that focus on both direct and indirect aspects of improving the status of women, saving children’s lives, and all aspects of delivering contraceptive services and health services to make it more acceptable. So, in India, we’ll work with their popular screenwriters and say, “How do you give characters in your films empowerment to overcome the dowry system? Where is it that girls can have equal status with boys? Where is it that urbanization is taking place in a country and how is that beneficial or disorienting both for the immigrants and in the villages?” All kinds of stories. Creating a story about if you’re destroying the environment, you’re destroying your habitat. All these issues are brought to the agenda we have. One of the most fun parts of that particular project is that I work with very exciting and dynamic leaders in these countries and I introduce them to scriptwriters and say, “Here’s a story. Here are these amazing people doing this amazing work. How do we create stories that are archetypes of these people so that people are inspired by what it is that they’re accomplishing at the village level and they can relate to it?” And in each country, the capacity of the entertainment community to utilize what we have done is varied. Some places we’ve actually contracted with script writers, other places we’ve held workshops, other places we’ve given awards programs for those films that have the strongest messages on women’s empowerment and family planning. It’s been a fun project. We communicate population messages to national leaders in these countries through books, reports, publications, one thing or another. We also manufacture medical equipment and distribute it to health providers in the countries. These are our five core projects: communicating population messages to national leaders, developing scripts with population family planning themes, informing and training health providers in these countries to utilize contraceptive procedures, and also the merchandizing and marketing of the small family concept as it relates to cradle to the grave. One of our signature projects is the Statement on Population Stabilization, which 75 heads of governments have signed. It was first presented to the United Nations on its 40th anniversary and later to the Non-Aligned Nations. Now each July 11, which is World Population Day, I work with how we can develop reports from the government agencies and major population centers within the countries on how the statement can actually be turned into action. You need a global event for a project like this to have a focus that allows heads of governments to come together and address something that’s of common interest. 

I asked Bill Ryerson, president of the Population Institute in Washington, DC, and the Population Media Center in Vermont, if he thought the overpopulation problem was going to have devastating effects in our near future and he replied, ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely. When people are told that contraception gives them AIDS and that family planning is a trick, overpopulation is very difficult to solve. The negative effects of overpopulation are inevitable at this point. Infinite growth is not sustainable in a finite universe.’ Is overpopulation an irreversible trend?

Well, as long as people have children and large family sizes. Population momentum is very little understood, not only in the US, but also in the countries that we’re talking about. Even if in Egypt, which had 26 million people in 1960 when I was working there, they will add 32 million more people even if couples have two more children in the next 50 years. In other words, the population is going to double even if they have replacement-size families from what it originally was. So these momentums are huge. India adds 1.5 million people every month. China, with a one-child policy and a total fertility rate of 1.6, adds 524,000 new people every month, and that’s because of these huge momentums. The reason India adds three times as many people a month as China is because there are sections of it, primarily in the north, that haven’t yet achieved replacement-level fertility. What Bill says is absolutely correct. The first billion people on Earth arrived around the year 1800. The second billion came 130 years later in 1930. The third billion arrived when I started working in family planning in 1960. The fourth billion came when I founded Population Communication in the mid-’70s. The fifth billion was just about the time I got the heads of governments to sign the statement in 1987. The sixth billion arrived pretty much at the turn of the century. The seventh billion will arrive next year. These momentums are very difficult to reverse.