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LOCAL GOVERNMENT: "Court ratifies rent control"

***For some time now the city of Carson has been dealing with a controversy regarding the scope and/or legality of its strict rent control ordinance, particularly in the context of how this applies to tenants at the numerous mobile home parks located within the city.  Daily Breeze reports on an important court ruling ono this issue....

* Daily Breeze:  "Court ratifies rent control" - From the DB:

   Carson mobile home residents have been living in a state of nail-biting uncertainty for years while the city has defended its rent-control restrictions in a series of ongoing legal battles. That anxiety over whether tenants in the city's 23 mobile home parks will face huge rent increases may settle after a recent court ruling that is expected to set a precedent affecting Carson.

   Since it was passed in 1979, the city's strict rent-control ordinance - which requires a public hearing and municipal approval for each proposed increase in monthly lease payments - has been subject to repeated, largely unsuccessful lawsuits. A city official believes it's been attacked in court perhaps more than any other local rent-control ordinance in California.

   Through it all, many of Carson's more than 5,000 mobile home residents - a significant and active voting bloc in this diverse city of about 92,000 residents - have watched with unease as they awaited their fate. A good portion of tenants are retired and on fixed incomes. "It's been a ride that senior citizens have been on. It's been devastating. It's been upsetting. Our lives were not normal for quite a while," said Peggy Benson, a 14-year resident of manicured Colony Cove Estates, a seniors-only park on Avalon Boulevard.

   In recent years, the litigation has reached a fever pitch, with one mobile home park owner - who owns Colony Cove and another park - asking the city for tens of millions Carson mobile home residents have been living in a state of nail-biting uncertainty for years while the city has defended its rent-control restrictions in a series of ongoing legal battles. That anxiety over whether tenants in the city's 23 mobile home parks will face huge rent increases may settle after a recent court ruling that is expected to set a precedent affecting Carson.

   At the same time, there have been similar court cases across California as mobile home park owners try to limit laws that they say prevent them from maximizing their investments either by raising rents or subdividing and selling off individual lots in parks.


  The Dec. 22 ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will safeguard the Carson ordinance, according to City Attorney Bill Wynder. He called the closely watched litigation "World War III" because of all the parties that filed briefs on both side of the case.

   The opinion, written by Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld, stated: "Ending rent control would be a windfall for the (park owners) and a disaster for tenants." The ruling sided with the city of Goleta in a challenge from mobile home park owners Daniel and Susan Guggenheim and Maureen H. Pierce, who argued their "investment-backed expectations" were hindered by the law. They said the ordinance inflicted an unconstitutional governmental "taking" on them.


    "It won't prevent a rent increase," Wynder said of the ruling. "What it says is cities have the legal authority to adopt rent stabilization laws."

   The decision turned in part on a complicated argument about whether the park owners could claim a "taking" due to an ordinance that they knew was in place before they purchased property in the city. That's an issue raised by a federal appeal that Goldstein is pursuing before the Ninth Circuit against Carson. Last week, Wynder wrote to the court, stating that the "circumstance is identical" and that the new opinion is "fatal" to Goldstein's claim....................


AFTERNOON MEMOS: Politics, transportation, sports.......

***Spending showdowns in Congress. Higher costs for getting around New York City. Concerns regarding California high-speed rail. Schedule of NFL playoff games.....

* San Francisco Chronicle (AP):  "Spending showdowns will test new Congress leaders" - Two early showdowns on spending and debt will signal whether the new Congress can find common ground despite its partisan divisions or whether it's destined for gridlock and brinkmanship that could threaten the nation's economic health. Not all of the bickering in the 112th Congress that convenes Wednesday will be between Republicans and Democrats. House Republicans, back in power after four years in the minority, will include numerous freshmen whose unyielding stands on the deficit, in particular, could severely test soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner;s ability to bridge differences and pass major bills.

* New York Times:  "By Car, Train or Buggy, Trips to the ATM Will Rise" - NYT report regarding higher fares on the subways; higher fares on commuter railroads; higher bridge and tunnel tolls; higher taxi fares to JFK; higher taxi fares within NYC; higher fee for carriage ride in Central Park, etc.....

* New York Times:  "Worries Follow Route of High-Speed California Line" - NTY report regarding concerns relating to proposed high-speed rail alignment through the Central Valley, including possible disruption of downtown business districts and/or the taking of agricultural land....

* Washington Post:  "NFL playoff schedule set, with Saints playing first" - WP lists detailed schedule of all of the playoff games, starting with the Saints vs. Seahawks on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (ET) and then the Jets vs. the Colts at 8 p.m. (ET), on NBC.......


L.A. CITY HALL: Report, commentary regarding privatization (leasing) of city parking garages; implementation of law banning mobile billboards.... 

***Report, commentary regarding plan for privatization of city parking garages.  Also, reports regarding implementation of law banning mobile billboards....

* Los Angeles Business Journal:  "Lots of Worry" - "Businesses fear hikes at L.A. parking garages" - From the LABJ:

   Businesses in Hollywood and Westwood are trying to put the brakes on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposal to lease out city parking garages. The opposition is driven by fear that private-sector operators would have to dramatically increase parking rates, driving away customers. They’re calling for the city to scrap the plans, or at least limit the rates that any new operators could charge.

   “This would be an obstacle to attracting new customers and we could lose some of our existing customers,” said David Friedman, owner of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers in Westwood Village. Friedman, whose family has run the store since 1947, has set aside expansion plans because of the mayor’s proposal.

   Tej Sundher, one of the owners of the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Hollywood Guinness World of Records Museum, is also concerned. Sundher said most of his customers come by car and he would lose their business if parking became too expensive. “This would be one of the most negative impactful things for us since the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” he said. “People aren’t going to pay $10 or more to park and walk over to our museums.”

   The mayor’s plan, which could be voted on as early as this week, calls for the city to lease out nine city-owned parking garages for 50 years to a business or a consortium. The city would get an up-front payment of $53 million for the lease, which includes three garages in Hollywood and one in Westwood. The $53 million would go to plugging the city’s massive budget hole; the money already has been counted in the city’s 2010-11 general fund. If the plan fails, cuts would have to be made in city services or staffing levels to make up the difference....................

* Los Angeles Business Journal (COMMENT from the editor):  "Backing Up on Parking Issue?" - From the LABJ:

   The businesses that are imploring the City Council of Los Angeles not to turn over city-owned parking garages to a private-sector operator are making a sound case. I mean, they’ve gotten my attention. I was a sell-all-parking-garages-ASAP guy. Now I’m a fence-sitter. But I’m listening to the side that’s complaining.

   I wrote in this column last February that the city should get out of the parking business. The city loses lots of money running garages, even in such busy places as Hollywood and Westwood. Why? Because the city intentionally gives customers a break, charging them, say, $3 or $4 to park for a few hours while the market rate would be two or three times that. That’s fundamentally immoral, I wrote back then. “The city is subsidizing those who park in city garages at the same time it is looking to lop off a thousand or more employees and chop services.”

   By selling long-term leases to a handful of garages, as the city now seems poised to do, the city could get up-front money. What’s more, it would stop the constant drain of dollars by operating the garages at a loss. Taxpayers would benefit. Beyond that, it would be good to stop forcing taxpayers to subsidize favored districts with low-cost parking. For that matter, the subsidized lots have likely inhibited the creation of new parking space. Would you open a garage anywhere near a city-owned one that offered $3 parking?

   I still believe all those arguments. Like I said, I’m a fence-sitter, not a full convert. However, the businesses and business districts that oppose what amounts to the sell-off of city garages have made several excellent points that hit home in a real-world way, as you can see in the article on Page 1 of this issue and in the LABJ Forum below.

   A main argument is that any private-sector operator will have to boost parking rates, perhaps dramatically, which may well sour shoppers. It could throttle some businesses....................

* Daily News:  "Crackdown on mobile signs hits the Valley" - From the DN:

   Officers towed more than a dozen so-called mobile billboards parked in the West San Fernando Valley on Sunday in an unprecedented crackdown against a controversial industry officials are trying to get off city streets. A cadre of city traffic enforcement officers also cited 32 offending vehicles with signs in a two-day sweep that included warning, fining, and impounding mobile billboard advertising displays.

   The New Year ushered in tougher state and city regulations against ever-present mobile billboards advertising goods and services from car alarm systems to wedding services to massages that have annoyed many residents throughout the city. "They're not only an eyesore, they're unsafe - you can't see around them," Larry Padovich of West Hills said Sunday of the mobile billboards along Vanowen Street near Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

   Owners of the impounded mobile billboards may be subject to misdemeanor penalties that range from $250 to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail.

   Local lawmakers say the signs are among the biggest gripes among voters and have been working to get them off the streets...................

* Los Angeles Business Journal:  "Wheels Come Off L.A.'s Ban on Mobile Billboards" - "Reseda businessman to put signs on sleighs to skirt city law." - From the LABJ:

   A ban on mobile billboards in the city of Los Angeles took effect Jan. 1, but the company that has the most mobile signs has already found a way to get around the law.

   The ban, sponsored by Councilman Dennis Zine, defines a mobile billboard as an advertising display attached to a wheeled, mobile, nonmotorized vehicle. The ban prohibits such signs from being parked on city streets. So Bruce Boyer, head of Lone Star Security & Video in Reseda, is mounting his signs on motorized vehicles. Also, he’s taking the wheels off and replacing them with runners, converting them into sleighs. Boyer said he will place the signs on flatbed trucks and drive them to their curbside locations. Or he could even tow them, letting them skid along on their runners. 

   Lone Star advertises its alarm-monitoring service on about 30 billboards parked around Los Angeles, mostly in the San Fernando Valley. Boyer estimated that there are about 170 other signs of the same type around the city. “This is the most cost-effective form of advertising this company has ever found,” Boyer told the Business Journal...............




SACRAMENTO: Jerry Brown's return as governor: "political leverage" of his first 100 days; "hope amid the gloom"; "old issues" still festering....

***Not surprisingly, there are numerous reports and commentaries today surrounding the return of Jerry Brown to Sacramento, including possible or likely scenarios with regard to his overall term in office, the state budget, etc....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Brown's success could depend on his first 100 days" - "The Democrat may never have the political leverage to get as much of his political agenda passed than he will during his honeymoon period, observers say." - From the LAT:

   As Jerry Brown takes the oath of office Monday for his third term as California governor, he will begin a 100-day sprint that could determine the future success of his administration. The first 100 days for a governor — often described as the honeymoon period — can set the tone for his entire tenure. It will be particularly true for Brown, who has been clear that he wants to leverage the political capital he has as a relatively new governor — he first served from 1975 to 1983 — into decisive action on the state's fiscal crisis.

   Brown's predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came into office with a mandate for radical change, made some early missteps that haunted his administration. He agreed to a plan to paper over the deficit with borrowing to get through the first year. Critics say he squandered a huge opportunity to push sweeping budget remedies through the Legislature. When he was ready to take bolder action the following year, the mandate was gone and his proposals were rejected by voters.

   There may not be another time in Brown's governorship when he has this much public goodwill. Schwarzenegger's popularity rebounded, but never anywhere near the levels it had reached during those first 100 days.....................

* Sacramento Bee:  "Brown's third inaugural may offer hope amid the gloom" - From the Bee:

   A key moment in the new Jerry Brown administration may very well be its first, as the former governor takes office again this morning and tries to steady California in its financial crisis. It will start with an inaugural address that the experts say needn't be very long or specific, and that, while acknowledging the state's many challenges, should not entirely depress the citizenry.

   Voters picked Brown, after all. While estimating the budget deficit to be as much as $28 billion over 18 months, Brown might also want to give hope he can fix it. "The inaugural is the first chance for a new governor to reassure voters that they made the right choice," said Bill Whalen,a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and former and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. The speech, he said, should be "visionary and big picture."

   Even an electorate cynical of state government might appreciate that, said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California...............

* Sacramento Bee (Dan Walters column):  "Brown 2.0 will face old issues" - From the Bee:

   Jerry Brown's resumption of the governorship after a 28-year hiatus is saturated in irony – beginning with the fact that he was one of California's youngest governors when first elected in 1974 and soon will be its oldest.

   Brown 1.0 was brash, sometimes rude, unscripted and maddeningly inconsistent. Brown 2.0 is mellower and friendlier, but still unscripted and still often inconsistent. Brown 1.0 said he represented the "shape of things to come." Brown 2.0 says he represents experience that will help California correct the errors of its past.  The biggest irony, however, is that after a long absence from the Capitol's corner office, Brown faces many issues that bedeviled his first governorship and have festered ever since – the state budget mess being, of course, the most prominent example.

    Indeed, the history of the state's chronic fiscal woes begins with the passage of Proposition 13 and, more pointedly, Brown's decision to embrace it after its passage, shovel billions of dollars in state funds to local governments and schools to replace lost property taxes and then immediately slash state taxes..................



MORNING MEMOS: San Francisco City Hall (interim mayor, district attorney, etc.); reaction, Schwarzenegger reduction of Esteban Nunez sentence; L.A. politicans "year of being defensive"

***A few miscellaneous items of interest this morning - L.A City Hall, San Francisco City Hall, Sacramento....

* San Francisco Chronicle:  "Buckle up, the dominoes may be ready to fall" - From the Chronicle:

   Fasten your seat belts, and get ready for a thrilling two-week ride at City Hall as the Board of Supervisors moves to choose Mayor Gavin Newsom's successor and, potentially, inspire a game of political dominoes.

   Tuesday the Board of Supervisors could appoint a successor mayor and the winner needs six votes, but no supervisor can vote for himself or herself. But naming Newsom's replacement could be a challenge because the board can't make an official appointment until Newsom's office is vacant and Newsom has delayed his swearing-in. If no one is selected Tuesday, the board could hold another meeting later in the week to come up with a pick before the new board is sworn in.

   Newsom said he wants to wait until the four new members of the Board of Supervisors are sworn in Saturday so they can make the pick, and he hopes the new board, which is believed to be slightly more moderate, will select a caretaker - someone who will not run for a four-year term in November. The new board conceivably could take up the appointment of a successor mayor at its inaugural meeting Saturday. However, it is not yet on the agenda - currently, the only action item on Saturday's agenda is electing a board president. Like choosing an interim mayor, at least six votes are required, but a supervisor can vote for herself or himself for the presidency. The board presidency may be crucial if an interim mayor is not immediately selected because the president would serve that role and as acting mayor.

   Not to be forgotten is filling District Attorney Kamala Harris' post because she leaves Monday to become state attorney general. The mayor gets to pick her replacement. There's speculation that Newsom wants to tap Board of Supervisors President David Chiu for the assignment. If Chiu takes Harris' old job, that would allow the mayor to appoint a new supervisor.


   Chiu could also be named interim mayor, which would allow him to pick his board successor.

   The selection of interim mayor could produce political dominoes...................

* Los Angeles Times:  "Father 'outraged' Schwarzenegger reduced sentence of politician's son in murder case" - From the LAT:

   Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to reduced the prison sentence of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, who had pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of a college student, has been harshly criticized by the victim's family. "We are totally outraged," said Fred Santos, father of Luis Santos, told the Times' Evan Halper and Tony Perry. "For the governor to wait until the last day in hopes it would fly under the radar is an absolute injustice."

   Santos, a software engineer in Concord in Northern California, said Esteban Nuñez "had already gotten lucky once" when prosecutors accepted a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid standing trial on murder charges, which could have led to a life sentence. "The governor did not even have the courtesy to notify the victim's family," he said. "This is dirty politics: cutting backroom deals. I guess if you're the son of somebody important, you can kill someone and get all sorts of breaks."

   Esteban Nuñez, now 21, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the stabbing death of Luis Santos. Schwarzenegger cut the prison term to seven years, noting in a statement that Nuñez, although involved in the fight that ended in Santos' death, did not inflict the fatal knife wound. Schwarzenegger cited a finding by the court that it was Esteban Nuñez's friend Ryan Jett who stabbed Santos, "severing his heart." "I do not discount the gravity of the offense," the governor's statement said. 

* Daily News (Rick Orlov column):  "L.A. politicians' year of being defensive" - From the DN:

   This is the traditional time for reflection and, in Los Angeles, there is a lot to reflect about. For Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the City Council and the city overall, 2010 was a year of being on the defensive.

   For the mayor, that meant justifying free tickets he received to sporting events and concerts, and defending himself from concerns that he had essentially turned over the operation of the city to his first Deputy Mayor, Austin Beutner. For Councilman Richard Alarcón, that meant insisting he did live within the 7th Council District in Panorama City and not the nicer Sun Valley home owned by his wife. His hope is to have an early resolution of the case. He and his wife, Flora, are scheduled for a pre-trial conference on Jan. 24.  And for the city it meant defending the cuts it had to make in its work force and public services in the face of the lingering recession.

   And, for the City Council it was with great relief that it turned the bad news of the budget over to Councilmen Bernard Parks and Greig Smith. Parks is up for re-election in March against two challengers, while Smith decided against seeking a third term.

   The New Year offers the prospect of change, with seven City Council seats to be decided on March 8 and a May 17 runoff if needed.  March also marks the starting period for the 2013 mayoral election. That is when candidates for the citywide offices of mayor, city controller and city attorney can begin raising money.

   With Villaraigosa termed out, it is expected to be a crowded field.


   There had been hope among some that former City Controller Laura Chick would return to Los Angeles from her job as state inspector general to get in the mayor's race.  But, now that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has announced he plans to terminate the job, Chick has said she doesn't even plan to return to Los Angeles. Spokesman Rob Wilcox said Chick recently sold her Silver Lake home and plans to move to the Bay Area to be close to her daughter and grandchild.