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Social Media Mayhem – Local Teens Cause Turmoil

| News | August 21, 2014

Social media has caused societal panic in recent weeks as officials are shown that this newer form of communication is in desperate need of applicable laws.

Social media including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and less common sites have caused a ruckus in Santa Clarita in the past few weeks – and for as long as they have been around.

Last year Twitter revealed the true nature of Saugus High School’s Morp with some shockingly vulgar photographs of students on the dance floor that may have played its part in having the dance banned from the William S. Hart Union School District. More recently, Santa Clarita has seen the “SCV Purge” incident, where dozens of underage residents were humiliated online by an anonymous user, who invited everyone on Twitter to reveal nude photographs and vulgar secrets of those they knew, and many played along.

The Sheriff’s Department’s first response to the incident was via Twitter, stating that the distribution of photographs of underage persons was a felony. An investigation is still in process, but with the given nature of the incident being on social media, and the young age of the users sending the photographs, it is unclear which way law enforcement will go with punishment.

The Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department has been a part of the Twitter community since 2009 and has been patrolling the streets as well as the cyber world, where it has been more and more necessary in this day and age.

Saturday, August 16 brought another scare, with the posting of shooting threats on Instagram, which included photographs of armed weapons. There were also two other postings, one including a photograph of a Texas “Valencia High School” used to threaten local Valencia High School.

“Death makes the world go round,” stated a third post, paired with an image of people who appeared to have been shot, execution style. The posts were made under a username of “yaboyplank” and included direct threats to student lives in all the high schools in Santa Clarita.

“TO THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE SCV AREA. THERE WILL BE A HUGE F—ING SHOOTING SOON…,” read the beginning of one of the posts.

The Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department discovered this to be a hoax on Sunday afternoon. The Instagram account was directly linked to a male 15-year-old Golden Valley High School student, who allegedly created the posts as a prank to his friends.

The Hart School District responded to the incident on Sunday morning at about 9:48 a.m. on Facebook, informing parents and students online of the extra safety precautions that would be taken on the following school day.

It read: “Important message from Superintendent Rob Challinor, to all Hart School District staff, parents and the community: This morning, we became aware of a threat that was posted on social media made against our high schools. We take threats of this nature very seriously and we are working closely with the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Extra precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of our students and staff on all of our campuses, while this is being investigated.”

The juvenile, who was charged with making criminal threats, has since denied the charge. He is scheduled to appear in court on September 5.

However, this did not keep SCV Sheriff’s deputies from increasing presence at all of the high schools and middle schools in the area for extra precautions on Monday, August 18. It was a familiar sight to West Ranch students, who experienced a similar increase in law enforcement presence after the gun threat in 2013 spread throughout Twitter and Facebook.

Unrelated to the Golden Valley shooting threats, a threat was made from a 13-year-old Canyon High School student to a 15-year-old Canyon student through text messages on Sunday, August 17. The student receiving the threatening text messages posted a screenshot image of it to social media sites, including Instagram. The messages were allegedly sent as a prank. The 13-year-old has since been arrested with no charges, as of August 20.

Social media is a big player in the distribution of information, especially among the younger generation, and while this has been taken advantage of, with examples like SCV Purge, it has brought to light situations that could have ended tragically.
Over the same weekend, the third social media threat of school violence in Los Angeles County was revealed in South Pasadena, when two boys were arrested with conspiracy to kill as many students as possible, along with three teachers. The students had online conversations via Skype, a video and voice-calling site.

However, while it has caused a panic in Santa Clarita and neighboring Southern California communities, social media has also illuminated the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri and brought awareness to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Social media is seen as both a demon and a savior, while allowing anyone around the world to contact anyone else, to post threats, or to cause felony-worthy issues under an anonymous username. It can also work together with great causes to bring awareness to issues otherwise under the radar, such as non-profit organizations looking to raise money.

Social media is a gray area when it comes to law-enforcement, and it is often difficult to determine appropriate measures for offenders. The Sheriff’s Department issued a news release warning the community to avoid future issues.

It read: “Santa Clarita Valley Station would like to remind all those that use social media to do so with care,” a Sheriff’s Department news release stated. “Parents should have an open dialog with their teenagers about the ramifications of posting photos and statements which might constitute a crime or cause other issues.”

Twitter’s Naked Truth

| News | July 24, 2014

By Jessica Vidal

IMG_8153On Wednesday, July 16 Santa Clarita teens were stuck to their computer screens, protesting, and even supporting the distribution of child pornography by their peers.

A Twitter page @SCV_purge1 surfaced on Wednesday night, and within a couple of hours, had thousands of followers, mostly current and recently graduated high school students living in Santa Clarita.

IMG_8154This private account rose to infamy because of the service it shamelessly provided—an anonymous outlet to expose anyone.

“We post everything anonymously! Just tag this account if you want us to follow you so you can DM (direct message) us such as nudes, call outs, and secrets,” the account read.

This had not been the first attempt to get this Twitter account started; two separate attempts had been reported and taken down by Twitter after photographs were exposed.

However, on Wednesday night the account went viral and it seems that anyone who had a Twitter account in the Santa Clarita Valley had at least heard of the page.

Photographs of nude males and females, mostly high school students, were posted to the page after being received via direct messaging or other outlets, including Snapchat – a popular app used to send a photograph to chosen users for only 10 seconds or less before being deleted – and Kik, a mobile messaging app.

While the account was receiving information and photographs from other teens, the profile was on “private” setting, where the only people able to receive anything posted were those who the profile admins allowed.

At one point, the account had over 1,000 follower requests and direct tweets begging them to follow back.

By 10 p.m. the account had gone public and all the photographs and tweets were visible by anybody who searched the account or its contents on the internet. A total of almost two dozen explicit photographs were published of underage residents – male and female – along with dozens of explicit comments.

The page teased, saying it would reveal the authors of the comments and those who submitted photographs, and at around 10:30 p.m., they began doing just that. About a dozen photos revealing usernames of accounts used to send the photos and comments were posted for all to see and for those who sent it in, to face the consequences.

By 10:51 p.m., the account had everyone’s attention, including the Santa Clarita City Sheriff’s Department, which tweeted indirectly about the account, reminding everyone that a nude photograph of any person who is underage is a felony.

“California Penal Code Section 311.10 deals with the crime of distribution of obscene material of persons under 18 years old. It’s a felony! #SCV,” read the SCV Sheriff’s Twitter account.

Before the page was deleted, the person behind the page revealed the password allowing anyone to log in and view unposted content.

The page was taken down by Twitter and the Sheriff’s Department, along with the Special Victims Bureau, which is now involved in finding out who was involved in putting the page together.

Since the explosion of this Twitter page, various denominations of it have appeared on Facebook and Instagram, and across the country.

The older generation is left with mouths gaping as to why photographs were even available, but in a generation where social interaction is done mostly on screens, it is clear that intimate interactions were not excluded.

National news has reported a total of 13 suicides linked directly to pages like this on social media and has been an outlet for online bullies to target individuals in the most personal way.

High Speed Rail Rep – No Show

| Gazette, News | July 24, 2014

By Jessica Vidal

Acton residents were disappointed at Monday night’s Town Meeting, when an anticipated guest failed to show. Attendees of the meeting were hoping to finally receive answers concerning the high speed rail from someone close to the project who was rumored to attend.

It had been communicated to the town members that a California High Speed Railway Association (CHRA) representative would attend the meeting on Monday to answer questions and speak to residents about the railway, but before the meeting, it was reported that he could not attend. The conversation about the high speed rail continued at the gathering, but residents were disappointed.

Linda Manchen spoke up about the situation.

“We just want somebody there to answer our questions. We want answers and somebody who knows what they’re talking about,” she said.

Manchen commented on a past situation, saying that a representative had been sent before, but he was not doing what they had hoped, saying he was, at best, a CHRA intern or mailroom person.

“It looks good on paper that he came,” she said. “But he could not help us. Why don’t they send someone who knows about all of this, who can answer us and listen?”

Other residents are also upset, feeling they are not being heard when it comes to the high speed rail project. Manchen reported that several contractors have already signed contracts concerning the high speed rail, when it has not even been finalized yet.

“They haven’t finished the deal and they already have contractors lined up. If they can’t do this, they still have to pay them,” she said. “They should have waited.”

Manchen said she was unhappy with the project. They were destroying the wells, so the only way for them to get water would be to hook up the pipes to the City, and that was costly and left them with no alternative.

“There’s no thinking – does anybody think up there?” Manchen asked.

Residents of Acton and Agua Dulce have created a webpage protesting the high speed rail, which has been running for more than two years now. Residents can view the site for information and articles about the negative effects of the railway.

Residents are mostly upset with the noise level and destruction of the area’s environmental beauty.

A representative from U.S. Congressman Buck McKeon’s office and two from California State Sen. Pete Knight’s office were in attendance at the meeting and were invited to attend the next meeting.

In an e-mail, Manchen reported that the next town council meeting is scheduled for July 30 at 7:30 p.m. and that it has been rumored that CHRA representative Michelle Boehm will be in attendance, “but there are two weeks for her to wiggle out of it,” it read.

Fight Over Climate Credits

| City Council, Gazette, News | July 17, 2014

Southern California Edison has awarded a $40 credit to homes for the purpose of upgrades, in an effort to encourage homeowners to create more eco-friendly residences. The change may include eco-friendly purchases, such as energy-saving light bulbs.

Residents of some manufactured home parks claim park owners have not complied with procedure and are robbing customers of the eco-friendly wealth. Other customers of electrical companies have found a break in their electric bills, receiving a $40 credit.

These credits are to be awarded semi-annually, once in April and then again in October, for a total of six years.

While each homeowner received the credit in the form of an adjustment to the household energy bill, when it comes to manufactured home parks, it is up to the management and owners to distribute the credits among residents.

To inform tenants of the credits rewarded them, a flyer from Southern California Edison explaining the procedure was to be posted in a conspicuous area. However, it has come to the attention of concerned citizen Doug Fraser that some parks have not credited the $40 to tenants and have not posted the notice stating the distribution was to happen.

Edison distributed notices to separately-metered park owners to announce the proper procedure for the distribution of the $40 rebate.

The notice clearly states at the top of the page: “Please post this notice in a conspicuous area,” in bold, black ink.

The notice also states it is the owner’s responsibility by law to pass along the money. “As a master-metered customer, you are required by law to pass along any credit or rate reduction that you may receive to tenants,” it reads.

The following language from the California Public Utilities Code Section 739.5 is also represented, mandating how credits, including the California Climate Credit, should be distributed to tenants.

It reads, “Every master-meter customer of a gas or electrical corporation subject to subdivision (a) who, on or after January 1, 1978, receives any rebate from the corporation shall distribute to, or credit to the account of, each current user served by the master-meter customer that portion of the rebate which the amount of gas or electricity or both, consumed by the user during the last billing period bears to the total amount furnished by the corporation to the master-meter customer during that period.”

At the City Council meeting on June 25, Fraser, a Canyon Country resident and a member of the Santa Clarita Community Housing Association, spoke during the public participation segment that he was seeking council support to have the letter distributed to residents residing in the parks that receive rebates.

Fraser provided a copy of a newsletter he created with the information from Edison on the rebate.
“This paper you have in front of you is some information on the climate credit that was discussed on May 13. At that time the council directed city staff to provide and research this a little more and then disseminate this information to the manufactured home residents. Well, on June 9 the RED control panel met, but, against my opposition, they decided not to disseminate this information. The City staff did not put together any type of flyer or anything to present, so I put together — on the backside is the actual letter to the owners about the $40 credit, and I think it’s wrong to not pass this out,” he argued.
Fraser recommended that the action be taken to distribute the newsletter in a CPI mailer that is sent to tenants of the parks in August every year.
“Well, this is actually a public utilities commission policy, so I don’t see why the City can’t continue the policy of support with this issue,” said Fraser. “In August the staff sends out a CPI letter to all the residents so it would be really convenient to just print this up and copy it and put it in that envelope – only cost you a couple hundred dollars, so that’s not enough to suppress this information.”
Fraser went as far as accusing park owners’ lack of compliance with Edison’s posting policy as a form of “robbery.”

Fraser said, “If we don’t do anything about it, then essentially the reimbursement that has already been gone to the manufactured park owners is essentially being robbed from the residents, because they’re not passing that $40 on to the residents. It’s equal to $40 twice a year for the next six years, $480 total.”
In response to Fraser’s comments, City Manager Ken Striplin provided information about the manufactured home panel meeting in which the topic was discussed.
“In regards to the Edison letter, I want to make a clarification,” said Striplin. “It is my understanding that the panel did have a discussion about the letter and whether or not there was a necessity to send it out to all the residents, and I believe the panel voted.”
Striplin continued stating that, to his knowledge, the home park panel did not find the action necessary, and that no allegations had been made by tenants that they had not received the climate credits. One member of the panel is a park tenant and agreed with the vote, according to Striplin.
Councilmembers voiced their opinions concerning the mailing of the newsletter. Mayor Laurene Weste, who agreed the letter should at least be posted somewhere, scoffed at the end of her comments, saying, “It’s $40.”
Striplin responded to Mayor Weste, assuring her it was a requirement of the PDC that the letter be posted, but City Attorney Joe Montes was unsure if it had to be posted at every park.
Councilmember TimBen Boydston was very clear in his support for the tenants of the parks to receive a copy of the letter explaining the $40 rebate.
“I do not understand why it would be a problem to Xerox a letter from Edison or a memo that we do and just include it in another mailing that has to go out once a year anyway,” said Boydston.
Montes responded to his comments with responses from the panel meeting held concerning the issue.
“It was staff’s understanding that the panel strongly felt that it was not appropriate to get involved in sending these notices out, because they thought it would create confusion with the residents,” said Montes. “It only applies to parks that are separately-metered and some parks are not separately-metered.”
Montes continued with the panel comments, stating the panel did not want the residents to come to them or the City with the issues arising from unpaid rebates, because they were not the correct jurisdiction to deal with it.
“The panel also felt that if the notice was sent out in a city-mailer and there was an issue about whether or not the rebate had been paid, that there was a concern that the residents would then appeal that issue to the panel when the panel really has no jurisdiction over it. It’s the PUC that has the jurisdiction,” said Montes.
Boydston was visibly upset after this comment and reminded the council members and attendees of the meeting that they are here to serve and help citizens.
“Obviously, I can’t make a motion. I thought that that was going out to residents and I don’t see that that’s a very big, difficult thing to determine which parks are separately-metered or not separately-metered, and if the notice goes out to those who are, and they come to the City, we can certainly write a letter to the PUC saying these people have, I mean that’s our job, we represent these people. And I do understand that there is a panel that kind of takes care of that issue and everything, but I don’t see that it’s a big thing we should do. That’s my suggestion.”
Boydston’s comments went unanswered and the council continued with the meeting.
According to Fraser at press time, nothing has been done about the issue and there are still parks that do not have the newsletter for their tenants to view. As well, he claims, there are park owners who have not paid the $40 rebate to their tenants.

Crappy Plumbing Job Closes Don Cuco’s?

| Gazette, News | July 3, 2014

By Jessica Vidal
The words “septic tank” and “restaurant” should rarely be used in the same sentence, but for the Don Cuco Mexican Restaurant in Acton, there’s no going around it. Recently, the Acton location of the Mexican restaurant closed its doors due to an issue with its septic tank.

The Santa Clarita Gazette received an anonymous call from a concerned resident alleging the purposeful destruction of the Don Cuco septic tank causing its closure, saying it wasn’t the first time this company had damaged a septic system. She claimed the company creates bigger plumbing issues to make the most money out of each client.

Don Cuco on Sierra Highway in Acton had its doors closed on June 5, according to reports coming in from the Los Angeles County Public Health Food Facility Closure List.

The closure list report states that the reason for closure is “Imminent health hazard to public health or safety” concerning sewage. The restaurant has since not been reopened.

A representative from the Antelope Valley Health Inspector’s Office commented on the current standing of the restaurant and reason for its closing.

“The reason it [the statement on the closure list] is there is because we shut them down until they can fix their septic tank. They don’t have any means to discharge their waste water, including washing dishes. Their tank was full and something went wrong. Until they fix it, we will keep that restaurant closed. It was nothing inside the facility that caused the closure,” said the AV Health Inspector’s Office representative.

He also stated that the owners of Don Cuco were working with several agencies to fix this issue.
“Their septic tank overflowed. They were repairing it and it hasn’t been done yet. They failed to have it fixed. As soon as we get the call from them that they are ready to go we will contact building and safety and all others to review and reopen them,” he said.

Yelp reviews and former customers expressed dismay to see the restaurant shut down under these circumstances.

Black and White Environmental Services has allegedly been the plumber that worked on the restaurant’s septic tank prior to the closing. Yelp comments made about Black and White Environmental Services claim the plumber is unlicensed, though posts made by Black and White Environmental Services contradict the accusation.

When the company was questioned about its licensing number, Black and White Environmental Services disclosed its licensing number as LAHD#2988. To confirm its validity, the Santa Clarita Gazette staff checked with the Antelope Valley Building and Safety Department, which referred staffers to the Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board “Check a License” search option.
“If you put the license number into that search, you can check if it’s valid or expired and any complaints. The company, if they have one, should have no problem giving it to you,” said the employee from the AV Building and Safety Department.
When questioned about specific licensing for plumbing and sewage, she said you would need a C36 for plumbing and C42 for waste.
The Gazette gave the AVBSD the license number given and it was unsearchable.
“I don’t know what that is, it is not a license number. That’s not anything for the State of California that I know, nothing having to do with sewage or plumbing,” she stated.
When relaying this information to Black and White Environmental Services, the woman on the phone directed a Gazette staff member to the Los Angeles Health Department website to find the licensing, assuring that a call would be received. No call was received in time for the article.
Concerned residents voiced their opinions over the popular Yelp website, directing reviews to Don Cuco about the closing. A Canyon Country woman reported on the Don Cuco’s Yelp page as early as June 11.
“I always enjoyed this place as a locals hangout. The staff is friendly, but they were closed because an unlicensed contractor Dennis of Black And White Construction did a bunch of illegal work which got them closed. Too bad for all those employees,” she stated.
The same individual left a review on the Black and White Environmental Services Yelp page on June 11.
She stated, “Black And White Environmental Services/Construction is not licensed to do anything but pumping. He is the reason our local favorite Don Cuco in Acton is closed. You can call the County Building Department in Lancaster and ask them. Or ask Don Cuco who got them closed.”
She wasn’t the only one to notice or hear about the issue either, as multiple claims against Black and White concerning these issues have arisen before.
A Lancaster woman reviewed Don Cuco on June 20, reporting it still to be closed due to the issue.
She wrote, “Don Cucos was closed in Acton due to an un licensed contractor destroying their septic system. This is what they are saying anyway…They better get this resolved soon. Loyalty lasts only so long.”
Previous allegations against this company have shown that this issue has come up several times before on a variety of other jobs. From one review on Yelp to whom Panico personally commented in return, the allegations were clear.
A man from Acton had strong feelings toward the company, leaving a review on November 11, 2003: “They do not have the correct permits or licenses to operate business of any kind. Do not use them in risks of potential liability to yourself. I’m ashamed such people know where I live now. Turned them in for fraud…In legal hands now but as of late his home was taken and was forced to move under the radar but still operating in local town advertising in paper and the like.”
Panico commented on the review, stating he had the appropriate licenses to do the job and responding to the accusations with a description of his new practices.
He says, “Black & White is a registered and licensed company (LAHD#2988). We are fully insured, and ensure that all required permits are acquired by the customer or by our company for any and all work that is done by Black & White.”
This comment came in on February 20, 2014, months before the alleged work was done on the Don Cuco Mexican Restaurant, yet allegations still stand that the company was operating illegally, without licensing. Panico also stated in the comment on Yelp, “We previously only required verbal consent for any work ordered which, unfortunately, at times led to some confusion. We will now be requiring written consent and documentation of any and all products and/or services ordered and approved to ensure that all of our customers are informed and clear on all products, services, and pricing, and that nothing is ordered or done without their written consent.”
A Santa Clarita woman stated she has a judgment pending on the company but could not be reached.
Panico gave no comment in time for the writing of this article.
Since its closure, the Don Cuco Mexican Restaurant in Acton has disconnected its phone line. 

Furry Friends Aid in Fight Against PTSD

| News | June 12, 2014

Even after coming back from the war, veterans find themselves working through the anxieties and stress of war and often reach out for a companion, a companion that, in this case, takes the form of a furry friend. The Battle Buddy Foundation Founders Joshua Rivers, Kenny Bass, and Jon Cambell found a need for not only therapy dogs, but service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD and other disabilities.

L-R Jon Campbell, Joshua Rivers, Kenny Bass and Atlas, Kenny’s service dog

L-R Jon Campbell, Joshua Rivers, Kenny Bass and Atlas, Kenny’s service dog

“The Battle Buddy Foundation exists to meet the veteran wherever they may be in their healing process, and utilize this personal experience to offer the most ‘veteran centered’ programs possible,” states the organization in a press release.

Joshua Rivers and Kenny Bass were friends in the U.S. Marine Corps and were deployed to Iraq. Founder and Executive Director Kenny Bass became disabled while serving in Iraq with the Marine infantry, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, in the first eight months of the war. On July 20, 2003, he was wounded during a counter-ambush patrol, where he was hit with an IED. He has suffered from PTSD, hearing loss, Behcet’s Disease, and multiple other physical injuries due to his combat service since 2003.

Rivers says that after coming back home, it just wasn’t the same. “Kenny contracted a rare autoimmune disorder; he had a lot of problems,” says Rivers. “He contacted the VA and I remember at some point he was taking about 30 pills a day. Eventually, he was prescribed a service dog for PTSD. He was trying to raise funds to obtain a service dog when he contacted me.”

After discussing the resources and options available at the time,

Battle Buddy in Training

Battle Buddy in Training

Bass and Rivers realized the necessity for an organization like TBBF. Veterans deserve an organization that can place them with a certified and trained PTSD service dog, without burdening them with the financial impact or the geographic restrictions that most of the existing organizations have.

It quickly became evident that placing veterans with psychiatric and mobility service dogs was only one aspect of the healing process necessary to help veterans with PTSD and TBI. Working together with Joshua, and with Kenny’s brother and co-founder, Jon Campbell, The Battle Buddy Foundation was born.

Bass’s service dog, Atlas, is the mascot of the organization, having been the source of inspiration that led these two veterans to create this grassroots organization to help many struggling through the effects of war, specifically combat. The organization is only about a year and a half old, according to Rivers, and has grown exponentially in that time.

“We have been contacted by thousands of veterans and it’s really shown us that the need for this service is out there. That was all without branding or marketing. We use social media outlets to raise funds and get our name out there amongst those who need our help,” says Rivers.

Although they see the value of therapy dogs, Rivers states that there is a difference between the service dogs he is providing and therapy dogs.

“There is a distinction, although you can see the value of an animal and its calming effect. Our service dogs are trained in that as well, to be therapeutic, but they have service dog training on top of that,” says Rivers. “The dogs will help an individual remember when to take their medications, wake them up during a nightmare—in a special and calming manner. They’ll sit facing doors to protect the veterans, and much, much more.”



The training the dog receives is based on the veteran to whom he is assigned. Although all the dogs go through advanced obedience training and learning common commands in service dogs, these dogs are trained specifically to fit their eventual veteran owners.
The organization’s goal is to reduce the number of suicides by veterans because of disabilities and disorders caused, in part, from the effects of combat injuries. Rivers cites that 22 veterans and one active duty member takes his or her own life each day.

According to TBBF, PTSD affects each veteran differently: through TBBF centers, veterans can take advantage of counseling, fellowship with other veterans, family counseling, and other programs tailored to the individual’s needs.

Rivers says the organization hits close to home for him.

“It was difficult seeing a very good friend of mine struggle and I had no idea how to help,” says Rivers. “The first day after he got Atlas it was a world’s difference. It was easy to see that he was better. It’s been two years and he’s doing things he would have never done. He’s going to the mall, to meetings; he’s going out, when before, it was a struggle to leave the garage. Aside from him, I want to help a friend. I’ve had friends who couldn’t cope.”

The future for The Battle Buddy Foundation looks promising, with the team looking to build training facilities in Houston, Cincinnati, and in Los Angeles. The Battle Buddy Foundation is a national organization and sends trainers to veterans across the country when the veterans are unable to reach their facilities because of cost issues or health reasons. Rivers comments that they stumbled into the idea of putting veterans to work as dog trainers and are looking into that.

In about two years TBBF has gained over 180,000 Facebook likes, a large feat for the organization. Rivers says that all of their exposure has come through their Facebook and website interactions and from those willing to donate or help the cause by passing the word around.

“Everything that goes into this organization is expensive and through the help of our supporters we have been able to provide this service to veterans,” he says.

The Battle Buddy Foundation thanks all of its supporters for their generous donations and help. You can “like” and “share” TBBF on its Battle Buddy Facebook page, or visit the organization on the website at www.tbbf.org. TBBF takes donations in the form of a one-time donation or signing up for a monthly donation.

For One Anonymous Twitter-User Money May Grow on Trees

| Gazette, News | June 5, 2014

By Jessica Vidal
hiddencashOn May 23, a twitter account called @HiddenCash began tweeting clues of the location of hundreds of dollars in cash. It was a web scavenger hunt beginning in San Francisco, eventually making its way to Los Angeles. Over the weekend, I found myself on the hunt for money … and an experience.

An anonymous user who is believed to have come across a large sum of money due to a real estate deal, decided that instead of spending the money, he would give it to the community to bring people together, as a social experiment. The Twitter account began tweeting clues to locations in certain cities on the West Coast and eventually the donor made his way to the Los Angeles area, where the popularity of the account skyrocketed.

Hundreds of residents searched high and low for the money in different parts of Los Angeles in order to find the cash, ranging anywhere from $20 to over $100. Nearing the end of @HiddenCash’s stay in Los Angeles, a huge scavenger hunt was announced for Saturday morning at a beach to be announced the day of the drop.

“Preparing for tomorrow’s EPIC scavenger hunt. Biggest in LA history. Who’s coming to the beach??? Money will be hidden all over! 11 AM clue,” read @HiddenCash’s tweet.

I decided it was worth a chance to try it out. So, on Friday afternoon I made the decision to see what the fuss was about, and follow the account’s directions to the money. I found myself planning a blind beach trip. With no specific beach in mind, it would be guesswork that would get me to the location of the loot.

@HiddenCash was excited for the beach drop, hiding Angry Bird eggs in the sand the night before the drop, “Getting ready for tomorrow at the beach. 36 of these, stuffed with cash, will be buried in the sand while you sleep,” read the tweet.

With 72 miles of beach near Los Angeles, it was hit or miss for many L.A. locals who attempted to find the money. Some even tried to look for the money overnight, digging up sand in Santa Monica and Venice, popular guesses, but revealed by the Twitter account on Saturday morning not to be the correct beaches.

On Saturday morning, I hit the road with a friend headed toward Los Angeles, and after some discussion about possible beaches, we decided on Dockweiler State Beach behind Los Angeles International Airport. At 11 AM we were still in the dark as @HiddenCash reported having hit some traffic and was holding off the announcement another 30 minutes.

hiddencash2At 11:30 the beach was announced to be Hermosa, about 15 minutes south of our location – what luck! We drove to Hermosa Beach as fast as we could, while still obeying traffic laws, and to our luck, the traffic was terrible. Parking structures around the beach were full. We spent 30 minutes going through a public parking structure and coming out when there was no parking to be found.

An hour and a half of agonizing traffic inching past the location of thousands of dollars and the constant whirring of news helicopters overhead was giving us anxiety. The desire to stop the car in mid-traffic and run to the beach was rising. After finally finding parking, an hour and a half after the initial announcement of the money, we were finally on our way to scavenge.

The tweet read, “Hermosa Beach between the pier and the volleyball nets to your left (as you face ocean). Remember -there are 36! Go!”
After a few hours since the announcement, my friend and I made our way to the location, and hundreds of people had gathered and were digging. From the Twitter feed, it had seemed that only about a dozen of the eggs had been found; hope was restored.

After two hours of digging through hot sand, however, it was to our dismay that not a single egg had been found. Several other scavengers jumped for joy as they found eggs in various locations, piling on the pressure to continue to dig for the goldmine under our feet.

Eventually, police cars drove onto the sand and began telling scavengers that all the eggs had been found, a false report. According to the Twitter accounts it seems that there were still, at most, a dozen eggs hidden ankle deep.

On our way to find a spot to relax, we came across several acts of kindness that were reported by the @HiddenCash twitter with the money, including feeding a homeless man, paying it to a musician on the street, and giving it to support a cause.

The social experiment inspired many to continue the social experiment for good, including several copy cats in cities across the United States passing along the same message.

“So sad and tired of reading about words and acts of hatred. Come together, people. Heal the world. Share some love,” tweeted @HiddenCash on Wednesday morning.

The Twitter-user plans to hit Sacramento, Fresno, and San Diego in the coming future.

A Call for Yelp! More from Last Week

| Gazette, News | May 22, 2014

Yelp.com serves as one of the most popular websites today, visited by millions of citizens as an optimal way to prospect companies and establishments in order to decide where to take one’s business . Although these people are often happy with the rating system, many businesses are not.
Yelp has frustrated business owners in Santa Clarita for some time and it wasn’t until last week, when local photographer Yoti Telio began speaking up about his experience with Yelp in a Facebook post, that others followed.

John Douglas, a Santa Clarita resident, says, “Yelp is a total scam. They couldn’t be less legitimate if they showed up at my business saying, ‘This is a real nice business you got here. Would be a real shame if something bad happened to it …’”

Douglas has tried using the trial service offered by Yelp, which Telio mentioned last week was part of the deal to call you when you are doing well.
“I tried their 30-day free offer and yes, magically, good reviews popped up, negatives diminished,” said Douglas. “But, as it was ridiculously expensive, I opted out at the end of the trial period and that is when I realized what a big mistake I made.”

Douglas said he was punished for not continuing Yelp’s offer; a price many business owners have said is too high.

“For not continuing with them, I was punished and my 4-star rating dropped to 2.5 stars in a week. It was hellish,” explained Douglas. “Since then, I have worked diligently to restore my name. We are back to our old rating now, but that cost me many, many hours of time that could have been spent more productively. I hope and pray for the day when Yelp gets taken out by a major class action lawsuit.”

Todd Hall, President of Hallway Plumbing, commented on Telio’s Facebook post on May 8 about his experience with Yelp.

“I paid them for a year,” said Hall. “They won’t do smaller contracts and they give you numbers of hits you get, however the number of calls we got were not even close. They also won’t take down a competitor’s post, and they filter all the good posts and leave all the not-so-good posts for all to see.”
According to Telio last week, the competitor posts being taken down was (supposed to be a) part of the deal, so why they weren’t taken down for business-owner Hall is unknown. Hall is upset with the business that Yelp does.

“Yelp is the worst website I have ever dealt with. They deal in trash, not honesty,” said Hall. “I, for one, will never use the site and I am fighting to have my company’s profile removed completely from their site. Not because we have a bad rating, because we don’t, but because of the way they do business.”
Hall has even gone as far as having to post a photograph to his Yelp page to remind users to look at the reviews that Yelp has filtered out.

“I even had to post this picture to get people to look at the good reviews that get filtered out. Yelp has been sued and on the news many times. I don’t know anyone that likes this site anymore. They went public and they could care less about anyone’s business. They even had my address wrong for over a year,” said Hall.

Venice Pizzeria owner Esteban Anzures commented on Yelp and his issues about wrong information as well, concerned with the menu he saw uploaded to the page.

“People were calling me asking me for items I did not carry in my store,” said Anzures. “I have had this store for eight years and some of the items customers were asking for I had not been aware were available. I would look at my menu and be puzzled by how they came up with these items and prices.”
Anzures said that he would lose customers because he did not carry those menu items that were being falsely advertised. If no administrative action is taken by the business-owner, if enough Yelp users insist upon a change, the change is made, even if it is not always accurate. And for business-owners who are unaware or do not wish to participate with Yelp, they have little choice if their page is already up and running.

“I didn’t ask to be put on Yelp, it just happened,” Anzures said. “They have called me to do advertising with them but I turned them down. The reviews and what is posted is up to the people unless the business-owner takes control of the page to respond. People would call asking for bacon cheese bread. It’s something I don’t carry and they would tell me where they saw it, but what was posted was just not true.”

There are many business-owners and citizens in Santa Clarita who are completely unaware of the Yelp situation, and often times are unaware of how to fix their issues.

Kevin Glasgow, a local resident of Santa Clarita, said, “So, every business I look up on Yelp that has a good review is a business that pays Yelp? You’re saying you can’t get a good review unless you pay? I’m not arguing, just asking, since I actually use Yelp as a business reference, but if you’re saying it’s a scam.”

Yoti Telio replied to his comment.

“No, they choose what they post. For the world to see,” described Telio. “The[y] hide or rank down the good reviews if you don’t pay, and promote the bad ones to teach you a lesson.”

Another local resident, Noreen Graveline Warner, said she has never liked Yelp and has refused to use the website, going to other search results when searching for businesses on the web.

Warner said she “was annoyed when Yelp came out and, to this day, when they try to hijack my search results I delete the yelp link and click on other search reviews. I have never read a Yelp review. Must be gut instinct, because I have refused them from day one.”

Jersey Mike’s Helps The Children

| Community, Gazette | May 22, 2014

407022_369350416424548_249001708_nWhen it comes to feeding undernourished children, it only makes sense that one of the biggest advocates for a charity of this type would be in food service. Help the Children is a non-profit organization dedicated to feeding underprivileged children and their families in the United States and around the world, and leading the wave of local support is Steve Youlios, who owns five Jersey Mike’s stores in Santa Clarita.

Youlios goes “above and beyond,” donating food and holding events for Help the Children, said Rebecca Fisher, volunteer and coordinator for the non-profit group, who claims that the Jersey Mike’s owner has a passion for the organization and works hard to give back.

50252_82767666753_4291477_n“In December around Christmas time they held a drive to collect baby items for Help the Children. They took in donations of baby items and entered people into a raffle and it was a lot of fun,” Fisher said. “For the final fundraiser at the Golden Valley store they had a Santa to take pictures with and they helped out a lot.”

The cold of winter inspired Youlios, when he began donating Jersey Mike’s sandwiches to the organization on a weekly basis.

“What they’ve been doing since December is they donate 40-50 sandwiches every week to Help the Children so the people who come to us can have Jersey Mike’s sandwiches,” Fisher said. “It alternates, the Valencia store will do it once a week and then the Golden Valley store will do it so that all five stores participate.”

In the coming weeks Help the Children hopes to award Jersey Mike’s plaques for the five stores as a thank you from the organization for all the help.

“We are trying to schedule with them to get together to put a plaque up in each of the stores, so that should be happening, hopefully within the next week or so,” said Fisher.
Marketing and Catering Director Amy Sandberg has been working with Youlios to begin supporting the Help the Children Organization.
“As the marketing and catering director, I met the owner and one of the managers. From there we all started talking and we agreed we really wanted to be able to help, I would say, an organization that was underpublicized,” said Sandberg. “We began talking with Help the Children in late November, early December, and thought they were doing really great work and we were wondering if there was any long-term commitment plans we could do to support their organization.”
Jersey Mike’s provides 40-50 turkey or ham mini-sandwiches to Help the Children, which are put out as fresh food for the kids.
“We have an ongoing commitment to Help the Children. All of our relationships are really personal in this valley,” said Fisher. “If other organizations would spark the inspiration, we can help them. We are involved in the schools, Henry Mayo … Child and Family Center, Circle of Hope, Boys and Girls Clubs, we help all of those.”
Ed Bernstein from SCV’s 25Score Card is also a supporter of Help the Children, and he has worked with Youlios on a number of projects for charity and says he has supported Help the Children because of the work they do.
“I think there aren’t enough charities that are helping children who are at risk if they aren’t already desolate. In order to get subsidies from the Food Pantry they need to prove that they are someone who has lost their job, who needs a hand up, not a hand out. Help the Children is a selfless organization,” said Bernstein.
When comparing the two organizations, Bernstein said he is happy donating to an entity with pure motives.
“It’s a selfless organization,” said Bernstein. “The Food Pantry delivers food for $4 a pound, while Help the Children has it at $0.04 a pound. When given the two options, why wouldn’t I donate to the one that is 10 times more efficient. One is government funded, Help the Children has no government funding because it is a religious-based organization.”
Youlios and Bernstein are friends who have both contributed to the community by holding fundraisers and events for the betterment of families and organizations in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“Steve and I are really good friends, we do a lot of charity together,” said Bernstein. “He does a lot with the schools and so do I. We have done parking lot sales and events together for the betterment of the community. He’s really generous with a lot of charities – Help the Children is one of them. We have been instrumental in making the community at large aware.”
When asked about the progress made with the organization, Bernstein praised Help the Children for the staff members’ hard work and dedication.
“They do $80 million a year without government funding. They do it all over the world and have 52 churches involved,” said Bernstein. “In Santa Clarita they feed 4,400 families every month.”

Local Talent, Jasmine Tristina Watkins

| Community, Gazette | May 17, 2014

Jasmine WatkinsJasmine is a musician living in Santa Clarita who has been developing her professional singing career here in Santa Clarita since she was 12 years old. Although she was born in Washington, D.C., her family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 2005 so that she and her brother could grow up in a community similar to those in the eastern United States.

Watkins took piano lessons for nine years with Elizabeth Peterson, owner of The Studio in Valencia. Other talents have come to the forefront for Watkins, including proficiency on the guitar and songwriting, along with her singing.

“My songs are typically about love and life. I try to write music people are able to relate to,” said the musician.

From a pre-teen age, Watkins worked with several well-known artists and on movie soundtracks throughout her young career.

During the summer before her senior year of high school, in 2012, Watkins attended GRAMMY Camp, a two-week, audition-based camp. The music camp is organized in several cities, including Los Angeles, where mentors and professionals from the music industry work with high school students to give them real-world experience and advice about developing a career in music.

“GRAMMY camp was such an awesome experience! On a daily basis, I learned to write, produce, and perform my own music,” said Watkins.

Since leaving GRAMMY Camp, Watkins said, she continues to keep in contact with fellow alumni.

“I attend meetings at the Recording Academy and continue to collaborate and network with fellow alumni,” she said.

While at West Ranch High School, Watkins was accepted into Berklee College of Music in Boston, through which she is currently participating in an online program. In addition, in the last year since graduating high school, the singer/songwriter has kept busy.

“I am currently working on my first EP and was recently featured on ‘The Best Man Holiday’ movie soundtrack,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time Watkins was recording along with big names.

Watkins said, “I have performed background vocals for the Jonas Brothers, Quincy Jones, and John Legend as well as other movie soundtracks and Disney films.”

Watkins is inspired by Brandy, Sadé, and Etta James.

If you’d like to follow her journey, visit her Instagram @jassietristina.

Parents Seek to Oust Board Member

| Gazette, News | May 8, 2014

A local school board member is fighting back accusations that he is publicly intolerant of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. The Internet dialogue has heated up enough to become an issue at the William S. Hart Union High School District Board meeting on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Joe Messina, a Hart School Board member, was reaching out to his community for help, hoping to bring to light the many rumors he believes are circulating among parents, students, and residents in the Santa Clarita Valley pertaining to his actions and words towards the (LGBTQ) community, along with other subjects. Two local parents have publicly sought to unseat Messina for views he has shared in person and on his local radio show, “The Real Side with Joe Messina.”

In Messina’s email in which he seeks support, he attached emails from residents Deborah Smith, outraged with the actions of Messina, including his comments on his radio show and posts on Facebook and Twitter, and Erin Kotecki Vest, agreeing with Deborah and urging for his recall.

In her initial email to Messina, Smith, with the subject line reading “You are a disgrace!” wrote, “I demand that the Wm. S. Hart School Board publicly reprimands Joe Messina for his ongoing, public homophobic remarks on his radio show. He is entrusted with the responsibility to be a role model for the students and staff of the school district, and his remarks are insensitive and mocking of a very serious issue for many youth in our district! He is a disgrace! A campaign is brewing to oust him from the Board!”

She continued to write that the present LGBTQ community was upset with his comments.

“Youth in this valley do not feel safe with him in a leadership position, making decisions about their education, and he certainly does not represent any type of role model I would want in front of my students, teachers or parents,” her email stated.

Smith cited Messina’s reaction to the admission of NBA player Jason Collins that he is gay.

“Your mocking of the process of “coming out”, calling out Jason Collins decision to come out publicly as something that does not take courage,” said Smith in an email.

Messina sent an email response in an attempt to clarify his statement about Collins.

“I never did this, I asked the question do we care if he is gay or do we care if he can play … the same question I asked about Tim Tivo (sic), do we care he is a Christian or do we care he can play football,” wrote Messina.

When contacted, Smith commented on her intention to speak at the William S. Hart School Board meeting on Wednesday May 7.

“I am preparing to address the Hart School Board tomorrow night. There will be a number of speakers at the meeting to again demand a response regarding the District’s failure to implement the FAIR Act,” said Smith.

Messina engaged in several emails with Smith, first asking for examples of his homophobic comments and posts, and going on to say that, as a board member, he looks to represent all the students in the community.

“As a School Board trustee, no one group gets preference over another,” said Messina in an email.  “ALL kids should be treated equal and as in all things very few groups feel like they are. BUT the board looks into every decision as to what groups will be affected and how, whether it’s choosing a curriculum, approved sports, after school programs, career tech education and more … I put the same effort equally into issues that affect all kids.”

In another e-mail, Smith attached photographs of posts she found on Messina’s Facebook page and found offensive.

Corporal Punishment 2“You asked me to provide you with photos from your FB page that I find offensive and indicative of your poor judgment as an elected school board official. I find the attached photos offensive, on many levels. The images, in my opinion, reflect acceptance of corporal punishment, vigilante justice, disrespect for different nationalities that are steeped in stereotypes, and these are only a sample. Based on your position on the Board, I would expect, as a voter in the SC Valley, that you would conduct yourself in a manner that reflects the conduct expected of students and staff within the Wm. S. Hart Union School District.”

Concerning his Facebook page and posts, Messina says that they are his views and he shouldn’t have to censor them.

“My standards or limit would be measured first by the Bible, Second by the constitution and third by the law. What should I censor, my opinion? No elected official gets elected because they don’t have opinions or values of some kind. People voted for me knowing what my opinions were and what I was willing to do for them their kids and our community.”
Messina commented on a photograph Smith sent him that she used as evidence of corporal punishment.

“If I say something about spanking (not beating), I have a portion of the population that will think I advocate child abuse and a portion that will believe that I understand discipline,” Messina wrote in an email. “People have a right (sic) have and speak about their opinions.”

Messina says that all are welcome to visit his pages.

“I haven’t denied anyone access to my Facebook, I have nothing to hide,” he sent in an email. “Check it out on your own. Although, frankly, I have seen many more exciting FB pages than my personal page. If you mean my radio page, I expect ANYONE who is interested in conversation and a flow of ideas to read it.”

According to Vest, Messina publicly read an email on his radio show, and was “mocking a parent in the district and continuing to spew his bigoted and offensive comments on air.”

It was this letter that Vest heard on Messina’s radio show that led her to send a letter of her own.

Vest wrote, “I would like to know what the procedure is for parents, or anyone, who writes into the district on any particular issue and how that letter may be used for media. Is this normal procedure? Does the Hart District provide letters to all in the administration and then is it allowed to be used for mass media, like Joe’s show? If so, does the district have a response to Joe using the letter on his show and does the Hart District agree and/or condone his remarks?”

Vest wrote a comment to Messina about the letter on the air, in which she questioned the fate of her own letter and Messina’s position as a board member.

“@deb’s letter is awesome,” she wrote, “… I want to know the Hart rules for recall.”

Messina, on the issue of reading the letter on the air, said he did not read it verbatim and was talking about content.

“I didn’t mention her name, I didn’t mention the District’s name. I was just talking about content and allegations made against me and people like me. I would have to listen to it again, but it wasn’t verbatim,” he said.

In response to the whole issue, Hart District Board Member Gloria Mercado-Fortine commented on the board’s stance.

“I’m speaking as the board and as a board member,” she said. “Obviously, I’m concerned. I believe that we need to treat everybody with respect. I strongly believe that the board represents everyone, and we assure that everyone is treated with respect and that we respect differences – especially because, as a board member, you are there to protect kids and to be their voice and to ensure that no one is discriminated against and is treated equally. That’s how I feel.”

Mercado-Fortine went on to speak about Messina and his radio show.

“It’s hard to wear two hats, especially when you’re an elected official, because people, from our emails, people feel that all of us on the board may have the same opinion that Mr. Messina has, but that’s not true,” said Mercado-Fortine. “Mr. Messina is acting on his own. He has his radio show, and … people may see it that his views reflect those of the board and they do not. There are people that are angry with the board because they feel that his opinion reflects the opinions of the district and the board and, as one board member, I would say they do not.”

On the website for Messina’s radio show is the following statement.

“Joe takes the issues … especially the controversial issues (politics, prejudice, religion, illegal immigration) … and brings in people from different sides to share their viewpoints. This is definitely not a fluff piece. And, while no one is attacked, the questions are hard-hitting. But the conversation is always respectful and you’re sure to learn something new, even if you don’t agree,” said the post.

“But, I will continue to do the things the voters put me in to do. I have accomplished much good for our children in the valley and for many kids in this community. I won’t be deterred by hateful, intolerant people who only care about one group of children or people in our community,” Messina wrote. “As many families as you state are outraged, there are many more that are very happy with my actions on the board and with the district. I work for and accept all children my actions prove it and I will stand on my record any time.”

Messina gave a final comment concerning the entire issue.

“It’s a sad, sad day when open, honest conversation by people on different sides of the issue become perceived as hate speech … just belonging to a different political party apparently makes us from different ends of the universe and unable to coexist. That’s just wrong.”

If Messina was to be called for a recall vote, his odds of staying in office are slim, when looking at past results. In 2012, several public officials in California were put to a vote and only two mayors, won the election and kept their position.