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Wednesday
Jun302010

Afternoon notes....

* From Curbed L.A.:  B-I-G news out of City Hall this afternoon is that Gail Goldberg, who has been Director of the Los Angeles City Planning Department for the last 4-1/2 years, announced today that she is retiring/leaving city service.  Goldberg's departure from City Hall, a move about which there has for some time now been considerable speculation and scuttlebutt, will be effective as of July 16.  [Goldberg's letter of resignation, along with copy of the mayor's statement, available via links within the Curbed L.A. post....]  Also, of course, as the development community is well aware, Goldberg's department has been particularly hard hit by way of staffing reductions relating to the city's severe budget crisis.

* Key Assembly committee says "no" to legislation sought by L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich:  This is the bill sponsored by Sen. Gil Cedillo (at Trutanich's request).  Although it was approved in the Senate, the measure then became the focus of intense opposition by several members of the Los Angeles City Council who viewed it as an illegal power grab.  Now, the measure appears to have died for the year after failing to get out of the Assembly Public Safety Cmte.  Cmte. chairman Tom Ammiano (of San Francisco) objected that he was being asked to jump into an "internecine battle" going on in Los Angeles. "I just thought it was inappropriate to bring to the Legislature. I don’t want to play in somebody else’s backyard," Ammiano said Wednesday, the day after the committee action.  (LAT)

* More problems for beleaguered LAUSD payroll system:  This time by way of an L.A. County Grand Jury report that takes aim "at the malfunctioning payment system launched in January 2007 in the Los Angeles Unified School District" which caused thousands of employees to be overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all and which then caused financial and emotional distress for thousands.  Since then, the district has attempted to recoup nearly $60 million from about 35,000 employees; early this year, the district was still in pursuit of more than $9 million.

According to the report, the payroll system remains risk at because of a lack of follow through on the 47 recommendations made to correct the problems.  L.A. Times article does not paint a pretty picture as to the what progress has been made, if any, nor as to the likelihood of any near-term progress or solutions.  (LAT)

 

Wednesday
Jun302010

News of the Day: Wednesday, June 30

Air travel plans out of LAX over the upcoming July 4th holiday weekend?  Anyone who is planning to travel out of LAX this weekend probably needs to be aware of a possible strike walk-out by janitors who work for contractors that serve airlines in Terminals 2, 4, 7 and 8, which includes American, United and 15 other carriers.  (DB)

* L.A. City Council votes 9-1 to draft library parcel tax measure.  Although the council gave direction to have the language for a $39-per year parcel tax prepared for their consideration, they put off a vote on whether to actually place this on the November ballot or whether to possibly hold off until a later date, with an important component of this decision being that placing it in the November ballot would cost the city an additional $4.1 million compared to what it would cost to place it on the municipal ballot next March.  A key argument regarding timing of the tax is that supporters of the tax believe the November ballot will bring out a much larger voting bloc in favor of the measure, thus allowing them to get the two-thirds vote required.  The cost for proceeding in November, however, would be an additional $4.1 million, which is a critical factor for Councilman Dennis Zine:  "We don't have the $4.1 million that is needed," Zine said. "We are talking about laying off workers and I don't see how we can justify spending this money."  (DN)

 No "sin-tax" increase:  Alcohol lobby holds sway (once again) in preventing imposition of higher alcohol taxes as a means of helping to address the state's $19+ billion budget deficit.... (Sac Bee)

 * High-speed rail:  update re "Holocaust" legislation.  From the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times....

Water contract signed with Cadiz, Inc.:  California State Water Co. and Cadiz jointly announced this week that they have finalized an agreement whereby the water utility will buy water from an underground reservoir owned by Cadiz.  Always makes an item just a bit more interesting when one reads or hears a mention of Cadiz, a company owned by Keith Brackpool, one of Antonio's "best friends"? 

Tuesday
Jun292010

Afternoon notes.....

* A new "charter city" in Los Angeles County?  Daily Breeze reports that the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council will be discussing the possibility of becoming a charter city, a legal designation that gives municipalities more control under the California Constitution.  The change, which would require the drafting of a city charter and voter approval, would allow Rancho Palos Verdes to define its own powers, subject to constitutional limitations and statewide laws. 

According to the League of California Cities, there are 118 charter cities statewide, which is about a quarter of incorporated municipalities in California.  Locally, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Los Angeles and Inglewood are charter cities. The topic has come up in Carson in recent years as well.  Most municipalities, like Rancho Palos Verdes, are termed general law cities. Their authority is set by state law.about a quarter of incorporated municipalities, according to the League of California Cities. 

As a charter city, Rancho Palos Verdes would have greater control over local elections, taxation, giving of public funds, planning and land use, use of public parks, utilities and council member salaries, among other items.  (DB)

 * Mariachis at Boyle Heights Farmers Market:  The Eastsider reports that organizers of a Boyle Heights farmer market announced that they have received the final permits necessary to open a market at the Mariachi Plaza Gold Line Station.  The market, which is set to operate from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday, is set to debut on July 9.  Eastsider report says that about 25 vendors have signed up to operate at the market.  (Eastsider LA)

* Media "issues" regarding U.S. Senate election in Nevada where Sen. Pres. Harry Reid is facing Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle:  New York Times reports that, in light of Angle's reluctance/unwillingness to talk to the press since she won the Republican primary earlier this month, there is now a game in Nevada called "Where's Sharron Angle?" and that this is a game that "the press is tired of playing."  And, in turn, that this has led to some to some "unusually aggressive behavior by local television stations. In a segment fit for TMZ, one intrepid reporter chased her on foot outside a restaurant this month, repeatedly asking why she had once said that 'if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.' She ignored the questioner and tried to outpace him, in a video clip replayed across the state.

   "In her silence, Ms. Angle has exposed a fault line in political journalism. Candidates typically live and die by television exposure, with interviews supplementing the usual barrage of advertisements. But in local races across the country, there are fewer reporters asking questions on behalf of voters, and there are more media alternatives than ever, including talk radio and Facebook.

   "Still, Ms. Angle is quickly discovering that there is no better way to wake up a sleepy TV news crew than to refuse an interview request — or 10 requests, or 20......"  (NYT)

  Delay of vote on state water bond?  Governor says he will work to postpone a public vote on the $11.14 billion water bond, now on the November ballot, to 2012, to "'avoid jeopardizing its passage.'" 

"'After reviewing the agenda for this year, I believe our focus should be on the budget -- solving the deficit, reforming out of control pension costs and fixing our broken budget system,' he said in a statement.  'It's critical that the water bond pass, as it will improve California's economic growth, environmental sustainability and water supply for future generations.'

"The statement from Schwarzenegger, one of the primary backers of the measure, comes as lawmakers are reportedly considering putting up a vote to bump the bond off the November ballot. Lawmakers approved the bond as part of last year's package of water policy and infrastructure bills."

*Update:  The campaign backing passage of the bond this afternoon issued a statement insupport of the delay.  (Sac Bee)

 Improper state worker activities:  State auditor's office received nearly 5,000 complaints of improper activities by state employees on its whistleblower line last year, and nearly 900 of them warranted further investigation.  The reports and investigations were then "winnowed down" to 11 "particularly signifcant cases, including that of a Department of Industrial Relations invesigator who misused $70,105 in state resources for her private safety instruction career; a Dept. of Water Resources supervisor who stock car race tickets from a vendor that he had signed up as a department supplier; a supervisor at a state correctional facility who required two psychiatric technicians to perform clerical work for 2-1/2 years, wasting more than $110,000 in state funds by underusing the workers.  (Sac Bee)

* FPPC now investigating the mayor's free tickets:  L.A. Times reports that the FPPC has opened an investigation to determine whether Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was engaged in his "ceremonial role or duty’’ when he accepted thousands of dollars in free tickets to sporting events and concerts, officials said Tuesday.

According to the Times, Villaraigosa was notified of the probe late Monday. It had been requested by local authorities who were already investigating the issue, according to Roman Porter, the agency's executive director.  "Due to the unique nexus of state and local laws, the FPPC was asked to open an investigation into allegations that Mayor Villaraigosa may have received reportable gifts and that some of these may exceed gift limits'... "'The L.A. Ethics Commission, L.A. district attorney’s office and FPPC have separate jurisdictions and we are cooperatively working together to appropriately and fully investigate this matter.'"

As for the role of the FPPC, LAT notes that the agency "has jurisdiction over the state law that defines what constitutes ceremonial duties and what is exempt from disclosure.  The state regulation says: 'A ticket or pass provided to an official for his or her admission to an event at which the official performs a ceremonial role or function on behalf of the agency is not a gift to the official.'"  (LAT)

* Media news:  Larry King announced today that he has asked CNN "to let him 'hang up his suspenders.'"  L.A. Times reports that King will be stepping down from his Larry King Live show in the fall but will remain with the network.  Instead of continuing with his regular nightly interview program, he has signed a new contract to host quarterly specials on CNN.  At least part of the driving force behind this would appear to be a significant decline in viewership for King's nightly show.  It remains unclear who will replace him. (LAT)

Tuesday
Jun292010

News of the Day: Tuesday, June 29

Gubernatorial election:  The contrasting campaigns -- both in budget and in style -- of gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown:  she has a paid campaign staff of nearly 70 employees (in addition to outside consultants and contractors) and is a billionaire who, as of May 22, had put nearly $91 million of her own money into the contested Republican primary race; he is believed to be worth several million dollars, has six paid campaign workers and had put $6,500 of his own money into the race and had spent only $321,801 running virtually unopposed in the Democratic primary; she has received very little by way of "independent expenditures", whereas this is expected to be a significant part of his campaign.  Now, with the general election under way, Sacramento Bee presents a look at the contrasting campaign operations, both as to the candidates themselves and as to their day-to-day campaign operations.  (Sac Bee)

* Passing of Walter Shorenstein:  And, speaking of campaigns and campaign spending, long-time philanthropist and Democratic Party stalwart contributor Walter Shorenstein has died in San Francisco, at age 95.  Report of his passing in Bloomberg; funeral report, along with testimonial in the San Francisco Chronicle. .

* Additional $200 million this year to fund L.A. County's retirement system:  How much are taxpayers in the County of Los Angeles paying to fund the county's retirement system?  Troy Anderson reports in today's Daily News that, with the county having been "stung by an $8 billion pension fund loss last year", the Board of Supervisors will be asked today to spend an additional $200 million to shore up the county's "wilting retirement system"; that, if the additional funding is approved, the taxpayer tab for county employees' pensions would soar in the fiscal year beginning Thursday from $787 million to $987 million.  And that this may just be a forerunner of what is to come in the years ahead as "officials warned that additional increases would be needed in future years - with the price tag for taxpayers reaching $2 billion by 2015 - to cover investment losses in addition to enhanced pensions for the legions of county-employed baby boomers reaching retirement age."  (DN)

*  Latest regarding the  mayor's free ticket imbroglio:  Daily News editorial argues that, "however the dustup over Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's exorbitant use of free event tickets is eventually remembered, it will likely fade from the public's mind when the next scandal blows through town", for the reason that much of this deals with intricate ethics rules about which the public cares or knows little.  But, rather, the editorial argues, "what Angelenos should care about - what should make them fume, stamp their feet and write strongly worded letters to the Mayor's Office - is that the time the mayor spent gallivanting with Beyonce, hanging with Frank McCourt at Dodgers games, and (literally) rubbing elbows with Steven Spielberg at Universal Studios, was time he wasn't spending on Los Angeles' very real problems.  What's more outrageous than any overuse and abuse of free event tickets is what it says about Villaraigosa's priorities. He can find the time to mug for photos with every B-list celebrity at every Hollywood event, but he cannot muster the time or energy to fight to save the city from financial ruin............ 

"It might not be realistic to expect the mayor's every waking hour to be spent working on the city's finances. But it is reasonable to ask that during a time of severe economic crisis he refrain from an unseemly display of frivolous behavior. It is reasonable that the mayor not contribute to the escalating cost of government by cooking up cockamamie commendations for pop stars that must be hand drawn by one of the city's calligraphers, and that he not use the time of his well-paid staff and security detail to cater to his entertainment calendar.  And furthermore, it's reasonable to expect that the man at the helm of the second-largest city in the nation would have the sense to see how his behavior might be viewed by his constituents, many of whom are out of work and struggling to pay the bills."  (DN)

* And further on the subject of Antonio, David Zahniser piece in the LAT puts forward a question that many have been asking...whether the mayor's acceptance of free tickets raises political issues:  "Can the mayor drive a hard bargain with entities like AEG, the Dodgers and the motion picture academy if he has also been the recipient of free tickets?"  (LAT)

* For folks who follow public transit issues, Matier & Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle notes that:  "A funny thing happened to the highly publicized $4.5 million fare rollback promised to BART commuters.  Half the money went elsewhere, much of it to BART board members' pet projects."  Then, "toss in a consensus among the directors to keep a cool $1 million on reserve, and that leaves about $2.3 million for Fang's big fare rollbacks.  Bottom line: Ticket prices will go down 3 percent for about four months - then they'll go back up again."

* Lawsuit filed by campaign consultant John Shalllman against Councilman Bernard Parks for $146,000 that Shallman says he provided for Parks' 2008 campaign to succeed Yvonne Brathwaite Burke on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and for which Shallman says Parks had personally guaranteed repayment.  Also, with regard to the upcoming council election in CD 8, Forescee Hogan-Rowles, who ran unsuccessfully against Parks in 2003 and who recently completed a five-year term on the board of the Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power, says she is hoping to mount a campaign against him again in 2011.  (DN) (LAT

Also on the subject of next year's council elections, it appears that incumbent Jose Huizar will not be running unopposed, with two challengers already raising money and saying they will be running against Huizar next year in CD 14.  (LAT)

* San Francisco Chronicle notes that there is a newly-formed state agency to try to revive the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta:  "Over the past 10 years, California spent more than $3.5 billion on an agency that failed to solve the water crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  Now, the state is trying again - with a newly formed agency.

This new agency is much like the old one with a different set of rules: It has the same staff of about 50 employees who were transferred over from the failed organization, and it has hired the same consulting firm to do much of the ground work, raising questions of whether it will succeed where its predecessor failed or whether it will be another expensive boondoggle."  (SF Chron)

 State budgetShould Sacramento legislators stay in town and work towards resolving the state budget impasse?  or should they go ahead with their scheduled recess for the month of July?  Answer is "recess."  Sen. Pres. Darrell Steinberg and Assy. Speaker John Perez say they plan to let lawmakers go home and work in their districts but that their members be ready to return to Sacramento on short notice.  "Until we have a budget, I expect members to work – the question is where," Steinberg said.  Steinberg, Pérez, Republican legislative leaders and the 10-member joint budget conference committee are expected to continue talking during the recess about how to close the state's projected $19.1 billion deficit.  Other members of the 80member Assembly and 40-member Senate apparently will be free to go, although no final decision has been announced." Senate (Sac Bee)

* Enterprise Zones.  Ballot measure to protect local funds:  And also from the Bee, Dan Walters is not particularly impressed with the latest political maneuvering relating to enterprise zones, especially the elimination of an employer tax credit for hiring and substituting this with a new credit for employers who support job training programs.   The Bee also notes that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who several months ago had signed a letter urging support of a ballot measure to protect local funds, indicated at a press conference yesterday with Assembly Speaker John Perez that he (Villaraigosa) was in agreement with Perez' position in opposition to the measure.  But that later in the day a spokesperson for the mayor said in a follow-up telephone call that, yes, he does support the initiative.  As for the mayor's earlier response, his spokesperson said that it was "'unclear to him that anyone was referring specifically to this measure' during the press conference."  (Sac Bee)

* San Francisco vs. cellular telephone industry:  San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post report that the cellular telephone industry is not happy with legislation approved last week by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors -- the first law of its kind in the nation -- requiring retailers to inform their customers how much radiation the cellphones on their shelves emit in order to allow customers to figure out how close the devices come to the upper limits set by the FCC.  In response to the vote, the CTIA (the industry's lobbying group) called off its fall convention set for San Francisco.  A lot of $$$involved here.  (SF Chron) (WP)

* Supergraphics:  Has anyone noticed that a number of those supergraphic ads near the 405 Fwy. and elsewhere in the city have been taken down?  Information about this via BanBillboardBlight.....



Sunday
Jun272010

Sunday: June 27 -- Catching up over the last few days....

* The commotion/controversy regarding Antonio's free tickets continues to be much in the news both by way of reports in the mainstream media along with commentary and blog posts that range from mild criticism to much harsher language....

  -- LA Weekly estimates the value of the free tickets at $50,000 - $100,000.  The Weekly also presents its take on what it calls the mayor's "free-year ticket spree."

  -- David Zahniser and Phil Willon go through 422 pages of information released by the mayor's office.  They say that, among other things, the documents include an email exchange for a lobbyist for the owners of Staples Center that seems to advise how the mayor could cite "official" business as a way to accept free tickets for a Lakers game.  (LAT

 -- Rick Orlov reports in the Daily News that Brian Currey, the mayor's in-house legal counsel, says that Antonio's attendance at all of these events falls "under his official duties" and that the mayor "'feels, very strongly, it is part of his job'" to attend important entertainment, cultural and sporting events.

  -- PR stunt for the mayor?  Steve Lopez invites Antonio to sit with him in the cheap seats.  Lopez opines that, while he agrees with the mayor's argument that it is part of his job "to do the town", Lopez also notes that, unfortunately, for the mayor, there are also laws about public officials accepting freebies for themselves and their family and friends, as the mayor has done, and it is because of this that the City Ethics Commission and the District Attorney's are looking at whether the mayor may have violated these laws.  (LAT)

  -- And Jon Regardie pens a Downtown News opinion piece as to why free admission to high-profile events doesn't always pay.  Regardie particularly notes three important lessons that every politican should know about political scandal.  (DTN)

  -- Also, the latest from Ron Kaye, who has been quite vocal on this issue, very vocal.....  Kaye provides a link to Ethics Commission letter from LeeAnn Pelham, exec. dir. of the Ethics Commission, in response to inquiry from then-Mayor Jim Hahn regarding the extent of the mayor's duties and how he should deal with attending major sports and entertainment events.

And some other topics.....

* CalPERS/Villalobos:  A bankruptcy judge has ordered a court trustee to unfreeze some assets of former CalPERS board member Albert Villalobos, who is facing accusations that he bribed CalPERS officials.  The assets had been frozen last month by order of a California judge in a case filed by Attorney General Jerry Brown.  (Sac Bee)

 *Latest on Expo Line is that a California Public Utilities Commission hearing officer has recommended that the Expo Line Construction Authority be allowed to proceed with an at-grade crossing at Dorsey High School.  The examiner's reasoning is that Expo has added safety improvements which she believes directly address issues raised by critics who have been arguing for the crossing either to be elevated or placed below ground.  The recommendation is not yet official; however; it must still go before the full commission, which has the power to adopt the ruling, modify it or come up with its own plan.  (LAT)

* New place to spend money in Culver City?  For those of us in the neighborhood (myself included), there is a new "indoor farmers market" in Culver City:  Sprouts Grocery Store has opened its first Southern California location at the site of the former Circuit City store at 5560 Sepulveda Blvd. (between Playa and Slauson).   The store is being somewhat along the lines of a Whole Foods market, but "with a lower price point."  (Curbed L.A.)

 * AEG wants to be exempted from having to do an EIR for its proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this is not sitting very well with environmental and conservation groups.  (Curbed L.A.)

 * Esteban Nunez, son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, has been sentenced to 16 years in the 2008 stabbing death of a college student in San Diego.  Nunez had pleaded guility last month, on the eve of his trial, to voluntary manslaughter and assault; in exchange for his plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a murder charge.  (LAT)

* Amerland officials facing criminal charges, including manslaughter and a series of other charges..  These are the folks behind the renovation of the Alexandria Hotel and the Rosslyn Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  The charges relate to a 2008 fire in one of the company's San Diego properties.  (DTN)

*Groundbreaking for first phase of 11.3-mile Gold Line Extension to take place on Saturday.  The extension, to run from Pasadena through Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale and Azusa, is expected to cost $690 million and to be completed in 2014.  (LAT)

 * Janice Hahn target of "phantom" recall drive.  Daily Breeze reports that 15th District Councilwoman Janice Hahn is being targeted for a recall effort.  Or, at least, sort of, maybe....  That folks in San Pedro area talking about this but that no one seems to know for sure if the talk is actually going to move to the point where someone files the necessary papers with the City Clerk's office.  (DB)

 * And, in Sacramento, it appears that the budget disharmony continues between the governor, the Senate Democrats and the Assembly Democrats, each of whom has a separate/different plan.  Also, that this is making for a somewhat complex and interesting situation in terms of various "power brokers" turning away from Senate Pres. Darrell Steinberg (who has previously shown an ability and willingness to cross party lines in order to move forward with legislation) and who are instead looking to Assy. Speaker John Perez to try to carry their plan despite its heavy borrowing and questionable legality.  (LAT) (Sac Bee)

 * Condolences to Julie Butcher, long-time local SEIU official.  Butcher's son, Matt, age 27, a clerk at the Echo Park medical marijuana dispensary that was robbed last week, was shot and killed during the robbery.  Butcher says her son was "'one of the most peaceful people'", that "'he would have given them anything they wanted'"; "'there's no reason for anyone to die over marijuana.'"  (LAT)