POLITICS (State, Local): California municipalities, "operational vulnerabilities"?: Commentary (Dan Walters), "Our cities have become vulnerable" ....

* Sacramento Bee (Dan Walters): "Our cities have become vulnerable" - From the Bee:

The bankruptcies of three cities and high-profile financial scandals in a couple of others demonstrated the operational vulnerabilities of California’s municipalities. A coincidental series of events just this month underscore that vulnerability, to wit:

▪ The California Public Employees’ Retirement System board is shifting to lower assumed investment earnings. It will force state and local governments to cough up more money on top of the hefty increases in “contributions” that CalPERS has already imposed to cover investment losses. Cities are particularly at risk because they have, proportionately, the highest pension burdens, having bowed to pressure from powerful police and fire unions for high salaries and the highest pension benefits.

▪ Meanwhile, CalPERS is moving to slash pensions of officials in two scandal-ridden cities, Bell and Vernon. One has been collecting $550,000 a year in retirement.

▪ State Auditor Elaine Howle established a new program to identify local governments “at high risk for the potential of waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement …” Six cities made the initial list, with the most troubled being Richmond in Contra Costa County, the only one to flunk all five criteria of risk.

▪ Howle issued the list just a few days after the Richmond City Council gave its city manager, Bill Lindsay, a four-year contract extension with compensation totaling nearly $400,000 a year, more than twice what the governor is paid. One credit rating organization has dropped Richmond’s debt to junk bond status and another to nearly that level.

“Richmond’s problems stem from a fiscally inept city council majority that continues to pile on debt because it’s unwilling to acknowledge the city’s financial plight and make tough decisions,” the Contra Costa Times editorialized.

▪ Richmond is not alone in piling on debt ....................


POLITICS/SPORTS: NFL, Los Angeles relocation team?: Commentary (Scott Reid), "NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell owes fans a decision on L.A. relocation soon" ....

* Orange County Register (Scott Reid):  "NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell owes fans a decision on L.A. relocation soon" - From the Register:

In recent weeks the NFL has tapped the brakes on the road back to Los Angeles. Somewhere between New York and Dallas, the sense of urgency at meetings on Park Avenue last month has given way to an attitude of “what’s the hurry?” as the NFL's owners gather in suburban Texas next week. Wednesday’s meeting at the Four Seasons resort near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport will establish neither a timetable for a January decision on relocation nor set a relocation fee, according to league employees. Both steps are crucial if the league is to stay on course for a January decision.

In fact, a January decision on whether the Rams or the Chargers and/or Raiders kick off the 2016 season in the Los Angeles-Orange County market is no longer the certainty it seemed to be only a month ago. There are some in the NFL who want a decision on relocation rolled back to after the Feb. 7 Super Bowl. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, an ally of Rams owner Stan Kroenke, has even floated the idea of pushing back a decision until March, an idea that Kansas City’s Clark Hunt has said he is open to.

A March vote on relocation would not only make it extremely difficult for the Rams or Chargers and Raiders to get situated and sell tickets and sponsorships in their new markets or mend fences in the current cities, but it also makes it a lot easier for the NFL to put relocation off until 2017.

“The NFL doesn’t need to be in Los Angeles,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports business consultant who was involved in the Raiders’ and Rams/ relocations. “The league is doing spectacularly well without a team there. And Los Angeles is doing just fine as a market.”

Ganis is right. The NFL doesn’t need to have a team in Los Angeles. And Los Angeles has certainly shown it can live without the NFL. The question is can Roger Goodell survive without the NFL back in Los Angeles in 2016? Can the NFL’s commissioner survive another leadership crisis, because that is exactly how the league kicking the relocation can down the road to 2017 would be viewed.

Can Goodell, already weakened by his mishandling of the Deflategate, the Ray Rice mess and the rest of the revolving door of domestic and sexual violence cases, withstand another major blow by failing to broker some kind of deal on relocation for next season? Doesn’t Roger Goodell need L.A.?


Los Angeles doesn’t need the NFL. What it does need, what loyal fans in San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis, Inglewood and Carson need, is closure. Goodell owes them at least that much.


POLITICS/BUSINESS: Washington, D.C., lobbyists, regulation, enforcement?: "Penalty against lobbying firm sends message to an industry unfamiliar with prosecution" ....  

* Los Angeles Times:  "Penalty against lobbying firm sends message to an industry unfamiliar with prosecution" - From the LAT:

It was the biggest settlement since lobbying reforms were passed two decades ago. The Justice Department announced that one of Washington's top lobbying firms would pay a fine after being charged with repeatedly failing to disclose its activities.

The $125,000 civil penalty the Carmen Group agreed to this summer was not Earth-shattering in its sum. But it reverberated through an industry in which no one has been prosecuted for failing to comply with a disclosure law passed in 1995 that lobbyists routinely flout.

Lobbying, once seen as a way to ply lawmakers with steak dinners and cigars in exchange for favors or at least consideration, has evolved into a vast, multibillion-dollar industry that involves bundled campaign contributions, media campaigns and other operations that often glide under the public's radar. And in its attempts to limit lobbyists' influence and increase their disclosures, law enforcement has been forced to play catch-up.

"We get no information about the public media campaigns and the organized lobbying efforts outside of the Congress," said Fred Wertheimer, a longtime lobbyist and reform advocate. "There are weaknesses in the lobbying disclosure laws that need to be addressed."


The Carmen Group was accused of failing to disclose some lobbying work in quarterly reports. The government also alleged that some registered lobbyists at the firm failed to file semi-annual political contribution reports.

Founded in 1985, the Carmen Group has been among the 20 highest-earning lobbying firms over the last two decades . . . . . . . .

Like the other firms that have settled with the Justice Department, the Carmen Group did not admit wrongdoing. It was charged with repeatedly failing to file lobbying and contribution disclosure reports, and ignoring inquiries. "Administrative lapses," the Carmen Group said in a statement ................


POLITICS (State, Local): California Public Utilities Commission, shutdown, San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant: "Judge: Regulator should release Brown e-mails on nuclear shutdown" ....  

* San Francisco Chronicle:  "Judge: Regulator should release Brown e-mails on nuclear shutdown" - From the Chronicle:

A San Francisco judge is urging the state Public Utilities Commission to stop “stonewalling” and release e-mails that could reveal a behind-the-scenes role for Gov. Jerry Brown in a multibillion-dollar deal with two utilities that shut down a Southern California nuclear power plant.

Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith acknowledged that he may not have the legal authority to order the state to turn over the e-mails, which the commission says were communications involving Brown and the president of the regulatory agency’s governing board, Michael Picker, about the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant in San Diego County. The commission is legally justified in refusing to release the e-mails, its attorneys say.

But it’s in the public’s interest for the commission to “do the right thing” and reveal as much documentation as possible about what went into a deal that would cost Southern California utility customers more than $3.3 billion, the judge said. The experience of another major California utility — Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — after the San Bruno disaster shows that “when something is big enough, it’s just got to come out,” Goldsmith said.


At a Nov. 5 court hearing in San Francisco, Goldsmith acknowledged that he may be powerless to force the utilities commission to turn over the e-mails involving the governor and Picker. But he urged the agency to disclose the documents all the same, and set another hearing for Dec. 9. “I frankly don't know why these two learned lawyers (representing the commission) are standing in front of me opposing it when the meaning of the (Public Records Act) is so clear that information of this type should be out there,” Goldsmith said.

“And it raises a question in the court’s mind and I imagine the public's mind that, hey, there’s some funny business that went on,” Goldsmith said. “There’s some decisions that were made that they don't want any sunlight to focus on it.”

The judge said the public’s perception was likely to be, “There’s something you don't want out there, that the PUC doesn’t want out to the public, and you’re standing on their rights under this, and they’re arguing that, hey, this ought to be out there in the public light, and it should. “Now, if I had a way to do it, I’d do it,” he said .....................


POLITICS/URBAN AFFAIRS (National, Washington, D.C.): District of Columbia Housing Authority, public housing, "flipping housing for profit"?: "In D.C., some public housing tenants forced out so homes can be flipped, sold -- or sit vacant" ....

* US News & World Report (AP):  "In D.C., some public housing tenants forced out so homes can be flipped, sold -- or sit vacant" - From US News:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the rapidly gentrifying nation's capital, real estate investors aren't the only ones flipping houses for profit. The city's public housing authority is getting in on the action — moving aging tenants out of homes where they've lived for decades, renovating them and selling them to wealthy buyers. The renovations, at a cost of more than $300,000 per home, are outfitting the houses with luxury amenities, and some of the houses have sold for nearly $900,000. Others, however, have sat vacant for a year or longer after tenants were forced out.

The housing authority plans to use the profits to renovate existing subsidized rental units and build new ones. But most of that work hasn't started, and none of the money has gone to new construction yet, according to the agency. Meanwhile, sales have been slow-moving and haphazard. Some elderly tenants and their children have asked for an opportunity to purchase the homes, only to be rebuffed, even after spending thousands of dollars maintaining the rental properties.


District of Columbia law gives tenants of rent-controlled or market-rate buildings the first crack at buying them if they're placed on the market. But the law doesn't apply to the housing authority or its tenants because the agency is independent, leaving residents with no legal recourse to argue against being moved.

The housing authority is an independent agency that gets most of its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The authority took over management of the scattered sites — originally intended as an alternative to conventional public housing — from city government in the mid-1990s when the city's financial struggles prompted a takeover by Congress. Since then, it has been selling them off gradually with HUD approval.

Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, said housing authorities nationwide have been "chronically underfunded" by the federal government and use creative financing strategies to maintain their properties — including selling their scattered sties and using private-sector investment to fund renovations and new construction. But she said she wasn't aware of another agency that's flipping homes the way the District is ......................