Community Briefs

NVJCC: Five Years Later

The North Valley Jewish Community Center on Sunday commemorated a traumatic terror attack with remembrances of past horror and hope for the future.

It was five years ago, on Aug. 10, 1999, that white supremacist Bufford O. Furrow, Jr. burst into the center in Granada Hills with a fusillade of 70 bullets from his automatic weapons. He wounded three small children, a teenager and an adult receptionist and later killed Joseph Ileto, a Filipino American letter carrier. Furrow is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Among some 100 guests at Sunday’s commemoration was Mindy Finkelstein, who was a 16-year-old camp counselor on the fatal day and received two bullet wounds in her leg.

Now a 21-year-old senior at UC Santa Barbara, Finkelstein was the first person shot and remembered grabbing a small child and running out of the room, bleeding heavily and certain she would die.

Donna Finkelstein, Mindy’s mother, talked of the lasting impact of the attack. “It has changed every one of us,” she told The Journal. “Certainly, Mindy is a changed person but she is maturing well. I am proud that both my daughters took part this year in the Million Mom March,” to promote gun control.

Loren Lieb, whose then-6-year-old son Joshua Stepakoff was shot in the leg, said that although the boy had recovered physically and could now talk about the shooting, “the experience has changed all of us.

“Sometimes I can’t believe that all this happened, at other times I feel as if it happened yesterday,” she said.

In the past five years, the North Valley center, like other JCCs in the area, has seen a drop in enrollment and income, but is now rebuilding its senior citizen and after-school child care programs. Center President Elaine Fox said the event was “a testament to building a new beginning…. There is a strong Jewish community here and it’s important to remain.”

On Tuesday evening, Jewish families joined the Ileto family and the Asian American Institute in an interfaith commemorative service at the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Rabbi: Busway “Not as Bad”

Jewish groups that once fought against the Valley busway are not backing the newest hurdle the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is facing.

The group Citizens Organized for Smart Transit (COST) brought a lawsuit against the MTA to force a study on the viability of implementing a Rapid Bus network for the San Fernando Valley in place of the $330 million east-west Orange Line. On Aug. 2, the appellate court ruled in their COST’s favor, grounding the work to a halt. MTA officials and politicians have been working to reverse the decision.

“They look on this [injunction] as a technicality, but it goes to the heart of whether [the busway] should have been built in the first place,” COST Chair Diana Lipari said.

An MTA spokesman said that a Rapid Bus system wasn’t included as an option in the busway’s original environmental impact report because the program was still in its infancy. Since increasingly congested streets may even bring Rapid buses to a crawl, the MTA believes a dedicated busway is still the Valley’s best option.

Members of the North Hollywood Jewish community, the second-largest Orthodox neighborhood in Los Angeles, initially fought against the busway in 2001 after concerns were raised that it would divide the community along Chandler Boulevard.

“It’s not as bad as we thought it would be,” said Rabbi Aron Tendler, of Shaarey Zedek. “The MTA has been very cooperative.”

So far the MTA has committed $189 million to the busway, which is now more than 35 percent complete and scheduled to open in August 2005. MTA officials estimate that the stoppage is costing the MTA $70,000 daily and that a long-term construction delay could ultimately cost the agency $100 million, including the loss of $68 million in state funds.

“It is a breach of the public’s trust to stop work on this long-studied and greatly anticipated 14-mile transportation system linking North Hollywood to Woodland Hills,” MTA CEO Roger Snoble told Los Angeles City Council, which voted unanimously Tuesday to request that the court lift its order.

The state Court of Appeals was considering whether to lift the shutdown order as The Journal went to press on Wednesday.

In the Assembly, Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) introduced legislation this week that would temporarily suspend elements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which served as the basis for the appellate ruling.

“This just shows the lengths they’re willing to go to,” Lipari said. “They’re willing to gut the CEQA provisions to get this done.”

However, Levine said he is protecting the busway project from COST’s abuse of CEQA. “I’m appalled that a small group is putting their self-interest above the interests of the people of the Valley,” he said. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor