LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Water Replenishment District of Southern California, lawsuit, pumping rates, legal fees: "Water district found itself drowning in legal fees" ....  

* Los Angeles Times:  "Water district found itself drowning in legal fees" - From the LAT:

Facing a lawsuit from cities over its pumping rates, the Water Replenishment District of Southern California called in the big guns. Latham & Watkins LLP -- a blue-chip, international law firm with more than 2,000 lawyers – would be the "bazooka" the agency needed, director Albert Robles said. "I wanted to intimidate the cities," said director Robert Katherman.

But that strategy came with a price: Latham & Watkins charged hourly rates of $285 for a paralegal up to $790 for a senior partner, according to district records. Aleshire & Wynder LLP -- the firm representing Downey, Cerritos, Signal Hill and Bellflower -- charged $150 and $300 for the same services. In a span of 10 months, Latham & Watkins billed the district more than $5 million in legal fees, according to invoices. That was about $1 million more than what the cities were charged by attorneys over five years.

Director John Allen, who joined the Water Replenishment District board in January, said he was stunned by the legal fees, calling them "unsustainable." "It became apparent we were going to sign checks larger than what these cities were suing us for," he said. 

Two weeks ago, the WRD settled the case, agreeing to pay the cities that sued it $9.1 million.

In a way, I'm glad they brought that firm in," said attorney David Aleshire, who represented the cities. "Maybe they thought we'd just roll over and surrender but we were operating under rates that would allow us to go all the way. WRD was operating on a time frame of what it could afford."

Several WRD officials defended the legal fees charged by Latham ......................


SACRAMENTO: Retired public sector employees, CalPERS pensioners, cash flowing out of California, report/analysis: "Why CalPERS retirees flee California" ....

* Sacramento Bee (The State Worker):  "Why CalPERS retirees flee California" - From the Bee:

This city’s Spanish name recalls grassy, spring-fed meadows that nourished the first farms here and gave laborers relief from desert heat. Now Las Vegas draws a new generation of settlers epitomized by California transplant Joe Beck: CalPERS pensioners who have made Sin City their No. 1 destination for retirement outside California.

Compared to California, Las Vegas was a no-brainer,” said Beck, a former Southern California school district maintenance administrator who moved here in 2000. “I decided that if I could handle the heat three months out of the year, I needed to move to where my retirement check would be tax-free.”

About 15 percent of the 561,000 pensioners in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System live their golden years outside the Golden State, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis of fund data by The Sacramento Bee. The vast majority have flocked to low-tax or no-tax states, creating a veritable river of cash that flows out of California and into cities such as Las Vegas; Reno; Tucson, Ariz.; and Grants Pass, Ore. Overall, CalPERS sent $2.16 billion to roughly 81,000 beneficiaries living elsewhere in 2013, based on monthly pension payments made in December of that year, the latest for which CalPERS data are available.

“It’s obvious that California’s taxes and the cost of living drive some people out of the state,” said Mark Beach, AARP’s Sacramento-based communications director, when told about Nevada’s popularity among CalPERS retirees. “I’m surprised the number of them leaving isn’t higher.”

Other retiree migration trends that surfaced in the CalPERS data include: ......................


POLITICS (State, Local/Bay Area): Senate District 7, special election, Steve Glazer, Susan Bonilla: "Senate candidate says union campaigns illegally at BART" ....

* San Francisco Chronicle:  "Senate candidate Glazer says union campaigns illegally at BART" - From the Chronicle:

BART management said Monday it will investigate charges that union employees engaged in illegal political campaigning on behalf of state Senate candidate Susan Bonilla at agency facilities during work hours, a charge leveled by her Democratic opponent, Steve Glazer. “Glazer’s allegations are of concern to us. ... The legal department and the office of the general manager will both be looking into it,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said. “We weren’t aware of what he said took place — and we wouldn’t condone improper activity.”

BART’s statement came just hours after Glazer, Bonilla’s opponent in the contentious Senate Seventh District special election in the East Bay, made the allegations against members of the Service Employees International Union at a press conference at BART headquarters. He displayed poster-size photographs of groups of BART employees from SEIU Local 1021 posing with Bonilla campaign signs inside what he said were the transit agency facilities in Concord, Hayward and Richmond.

Glazer is the Orinda mayor who has publicly called for an end to BART employees’ right to strike and has been critical of the system’s unions and management ....................


DEVELOPMENT/URBAN AFFAIRS (Downtown Los Angeles): Grand Avenue Project, editorial: "Progress and Questions on Grand Avenue" .... 

* Downtown News (editorial):  "Progress and Questions on Grand Avenue" - From the DTN:

One has to feel for Related Cos. For about a decade, the developer has sought to build a mammoth Frank Gehry-designed project on Grand Avenue. Yet time and again, hurdles have been placed in its path. In every instance, Related has regrouped and found a way to move forward, even when the hurdle was a global recession that took years to overcome. In the process, the company has displayed an impressive stick-to-it-iveness. As this page has noted before, many other developers would long ago have become frustrated, or decided the investment was not worth it and walked away.

The latest snafu involves an operator of the 300-room hotel and an equity investor in the entire $850 million project. In January, Related split with its partner, SBE Entertainment, which had been slated to help finance the project and run a 300-room SLS Hotel. Last month, Los Angeles Downtown News reported that the hotel would instead be an Equinox, as the upscale gym shifts into the hospitality industry.

It’s an interesting choice, and while we are hopeful that it will work, there are questions. Some of those were voiced by 14th District City Councilman José Huizar. . . . . . . .

These are questions worth asking, and it is to everyone’s benefit, including Related’s, to have answers as soon as possible . . . . . . . .

In addition to hearing more about hotel operations, we look forward to knowing who will chip in the up to $300 million needed to build the development across from Walt Disney Concert Hall. Related expects to select an equity partner in about a month.

County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who chairs the JPA, also has questions, though hers hew more to accessibility, both in terms of physical entry to the project and price point .......................


MISCELLANEOUS: Starbucks, spilled hot coffee lawsuit, severe burns, loss of consortium with wife: "Starbucks not liable for spilled coffee that burned officer, jury says" ....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Starbucks not liable for spilled coffee that burned officer, jury says" - From the LAT:

Police Sgt. Matthew Kohr got a cup of coffee from his usual barista, Ali, one day in January 2012 at Starbucks Store No. 8373 in the North Carolina capital. The venti-size coffee blend — Kohr says Ali called it "something special" — was hot. It spilled into the officer's lap. His inner thigh was scalded, as was the tip of his penis, he later said. A lawsuit ensued.

On Monday morning, Kohr sat in a downtown courtroom with his arm around his wife, Melanie, while a jury deliberated whether the giant $57-billion coffee corporation was legally liable for the officer's injuries. 

Kohr, 44, a tall, wavy-haired officer who is now a lieutenant, contended that his burns were so severe that they left him clinically depressed, anxious, sleep-deprived and unable to enjoy everyday life. The burns also resulted in what Kohr's lawsuit called "loss of consortium" with his wife.

"Starbucks delivered a cup of coffee that robbed Matt Kohr of control of his life," the officer's lawyer, Daniel H. Johnson, told a jury of eight men and four women Friday, according to news reports. The officer blamed a faulty lid and said Ali failed to provide a protective cardboard sleeve. The lid popped off, Kohr said, and drenched his police trousers with scalding coffee. "I wanted to beat my chest and scream," Kohr testified. "But the place was full of people." His lawsuit sought a minimum of $10,000 and up to $750,000 for what he said were third-degree burns.

Kohr's trip to court has invited comparisons to the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit that became, for some critics, an emblem of an overly litigious society ......................