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L.A. CITY HALL: Launch of Jim Newton weekly column, interviews with local leaders, assessment of Antonio: "How disappointing" 

***After completing his most recent book (the first one was on Earl Warren and this second one is about Dwight Eisenhower), Los Angeles Times veteran reporter and editor Jim Newton has now returned to the LAT editorial pages. One of his key activities will be a weekly column. The first column discusses an assessment of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the eyes of a group of influential Angelenos. Newton introduces the column as follows:  "As I prepared to launch this weekly column, I met with more than two dozen influential Angelenos.  A diverse group of people, they shared one common sentiment:  disappointment in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa."

"How disappointing" - From the LAT:

   Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's inauguration, on a sunny Los Angeles morning 5 1/2 years ago, was a moment of celebration and promise. Villaraigosa's personal future appeared limitless; the city seemed poised to reap great things. "We need," he said that day to 3,000 adoring supporters, "to start thinking big again." That feels like a long time ago.

   Villaraigosa set out to take over Los Angeles schools, but fell short. He promised to plant a million trees, but didn't. He said he would promote job growth; jobs have fled. He pledged to secure 40% of the city's electrical power from renewable sources by 2020; the Department of Water and Power now is scaling back from that goal. He promised common-sense solutions to traffic; gridlock is worse than ever. He's presided over turnover and indirection on his personal staff, allowing key government positions to remain vacant for months.

   Of course, the blame is not Villaraigosa's alone. The mayor has been hampered by the economic downturn, which has exacerbated the city's budget woes. But increasingly, the administration's failings are being laid at his feet.

   In recent weeks, as I have prepared to launch this weekly column, I've met with more than two dozen influential Angelenos — current and former politicians, labor leaders, environmentalists, neighborhood activists and bureaucrats — to hear about their concerns and enthusiasms. The conversations were candid and off the record. A diverse group of people, they shared one common sentiment: disappointment in the mayor.

   Criticism from his longtime foes wasn't unexpected. They regard the mayor as selfish, arrogant and ineffective. But his longtime backers weren't much happier. They complain that he's been an incompetent manager and has squandered the public's initial enthusiasm for him. They too are astounded at his preening self-indulgence.


   The mayor's effectiveness has been hampered, in part, by staff turnover. Many of his most highly regarded deputies have decamped. Chief of Staff Robin Kramer left more than a year ago. Thomas Saenz was his counsel; he's now at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Transportation chief Rita Robinson moved to the county. Planning director Gail Goldberg came in a burst of promise, then left. Karen Sisson became the city administrative officer in 2006 and earned the confidence of labor and city leaders. She departed in 2008.

   What remains is confusing: Chief of Staff Jeff Carr is well liked personally, but many question his depth of experience. Austin Beutner, the first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy, is beloved by the business community, but it's hard to figure out exactly what he does. He and Villaraigosa circle each other warily, as Beutner contemplates his own run for mayor in 2012.

   One thing is clear: Villaraigosa knows his supporters are losing faith. He blames this newspaper, which has repeatedly endorsed him. He blames the City Council, which has approved every major proposal he's sent its way. He whines when others get credit that he believes is due him. Council members say he expects obedience but does not even bother to tell them what to obey. Once a politician of unlimited potential, he now strikes many as alone and lost.........


MORNING MEMOS: UC Regents, overhaul of pension and health care benefits; candidates for LAUSD and LACCD; budget cuts for LAPD and LAFD; Jerry Brown, labor relationships; Willie Brown observations.... 

***Several interesting items this morning.....

* Los Angeles Times:  "UC regents seek to cut retirees' pension elibility and health benefits" - "Unions are expected to object to the proposal's creation of a two-tier workforce."

Also: * Sacramento Bee:  "Regents vote to overhaul UC pension, health care benefits"

*Daily News:   "Panel weighs cutting fire, police budgets" - L.A. City Council Budget & Finance Cmte. recommends a plan to save $87 million -- mostly through cuts to police and fire budgets -- as part of the city's efforts to deal with a $300 million-plus budget deficit....

* Daily Breeze:  "UTLA-backed candidate Escandon among those qualifying for ballot" - Candidates for Los Angeles Unified School District board and for Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees.....

* Daily News:  "Plan to assign LAPD officers to jails OK'd" - L.A. City Council Public Safety Cmte. approves plan to move 83 LAPD officers from other duties to serve as jailers at the new Metropolitan Detention Center....

* San Francisco Chronicle:  "Jerry Brown's tug-of-war: labor contracts, deficit" - Not just a budget deficit awaiting Jerry Brown when he is sworn in in a few weeks but also labor contracts with six bargaining units whose salaries alone total more than $5 billion....

* San Francisco Chronicle (Willie Brown column):  "Obama in trouble on many fronts as 2012 nears" - Willie's thoughts on health care reform, the economy, potential Republican presidential candidates in 2012....


POLITICS: San Francisco, poll regarding selection of interim mayor.... 

* San Francisco Chronicle (Matier & Ross):  Poll regarding selectin of interim mayor....

   Mayoral poll: San Franciscans want an experienced administrator as their interim mayor who will follow a moderate agenda, even if that means cuts in city services, according to a new poll of 500 city voters.

   "People are saying we need someone who can deal with real problems," said pollster Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research, an Oakland outfit that conducted the phone survey from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 for an unidentified client.

Among the findings:

-- 48 percent of those polled want the incoming Board of Supervisors to appoint the interim mayor, while 34 percent think the current and decidedly more left-leaning body should make the call.

-- 52 percent want the interim mayor to follow a "moderate agenda," compared with 34 percent who want a progressive.

-- By a 2-1 ratio, respondents say they want an "experienced administrator" as opposed to "a political leader."

   Former Mayor Willie Brown and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu were the two top picks of those polled, though both scored only in the midteens. State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and state Sen. Mark Leno were also in double digits, followed by Sheriff Michael Hennessy and Ed Harrington, head of the city Public Utilities Commission. Supervisor David Campos finished last, at below 5 percent.

   Bernstein said the survey, which has a 4.4 percentage-point margin of error, indicates that San Franciscans may be shedding some of their more liberal attitudes in this tough economy.


POLITICS/BUSINESS: "Lawyer hired to investigate CalPERS bribery scandal urges reforms" 

***It appears that the CalPERS/Albert Villalobos bribery scandal continues to percolate through the political, legal and business world.  Latest news on this front is Sacramento Bee article regarding recommendations for changing how CalPERS operates in terms of use of placement agents and the acceptance of gifts, etc.....

"Lawyer hired to investigate CalPERS bribery scandal urges reforms" - From the Bee:

   The lawyer leading the investigation into CalPERS' bribery scandal urged the pension fund today to adopt a broad series of reforms, including a ban on gifts to CalPERS board members. Philip Khinda, the Washington lawyer hired by CalPERS in October 2009 to investigate Alfred Villalobos and other placement agents, made a series of recommendations to the pension fund's board aimed at cracking down on the agents and scaling back the fees the pension fund pays to its investment partners.


   Among other things, Khinda said CalPERS board members should no longer accept meals, travel or other gifts from placement agents or their clients. Such a ban already applies to CalPERS staff. The recommendation appears to be in response to allegations that Villalobos took former board member Charles Valdes on an all-expenses-paid round-the-world trip in 2006, and gave him other gifts. Khinda also wants CalPERS to urge its investment partners to no longer hold any of their annual meetings at exotic, off-site locales. "Lavish meetings are inconsistent with the mission of CalPERS," he wrote in his report.


   Some of Khinda's recommendations go to the heart of the private equity industry and how it's funded. He urged CalPERS to forbid its investment partners from using any of the pension fund's dollars to pay placement agents. What's more, he wants CalPERS to stop paying its partners flat management fees. In the future, "CalPERS should insist that nearly all of the fees it pays be in the form of incentive fees paid based on the success" of the investments," he wrote. He said the generous fees paid by CalPERS have been "an apparent excess" that made it easier for the partners to pay commissions to placement agents.

   In the past year, CalPERS has persuaded many of its partners to agree to $300 million in combined cuts in future fees. Some of those partners also agreed to stop using placement agents when pitching deals to CalPERS. CalPERS' biggest partner - Apollo Global Management, which was Villalobos' biggest client - agreed to a $125 million discount in fees.


BELL: "Judge rules not to delay attorney general's lawsuit"; ruling viewed as a victory for "Bell 8" defendants....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Bell corruption:  Judge rules not to delay attorney general's lawsuit" - From the LAT:

   A Los Angeles County Superior judge denied a request Monday by the state to delay its lawsuit against current and former Bell officials because it could interfere with L.A. County's criminal cases against the troubled city's current and former leaders. Judge Ralph Dau rebuffed efforts by lawyers for Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the L.A. County district attorney and the city of Bell to delay much of the lawsuit until criminal charges against eight current and former city officials is resolved.


   State lawyers said they would consider appealing the ruling once it is issued in writing.

   The ruling represented a victory for the defendants, including former city manager Robert Rizzo and Mayor Oscar Hernandez, who have accused Gov.-elect Brown in the run-up to the November election of "political grandstanding." In a court filing opposing the request, Hernandez accused Brown and L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who was running to become state attorney general, of refusing to dismiss their cases because it would show they were brought for political purposes. "The present motion is an admission by the plaintiff that this action was brought in bad faith and the court should not brook such cynical tactics," wrote Hernandez's attorney, Stanley Friedman.