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Thursday
Jan132011

SACRAMENTO: Jerry Brown budget gets praise from Legislative Analyst's Office; also, more info/details regarding "apology" letter from Arnold Schwarzengger to Fred Santos....

***Legislative Analyst's Office gives praise for Jerry Brown budget plan, says it is a "good starting point", but that there are also many risks.  More info/details regarding letter from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Fred Santos regarding Esteban Nunez sentence reduction....

* Sacramento Bee:  "Analyst praises Brown budget plan but sees many risks" - From the Bee:

   In its first review of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office called the plan a "good starting point" Wednesday and praised the governor for focusing on solutions to fiscal problems beyond this year. But the analyst's report identified several major ideas that could fall through, particularly in Brown's plan to shift a variety of services to local governments and eliminate redevelopment agencies.

   The 40-page review noted that "there is significant work ahead to fill in the details of some of the governor's ambitious, complex budget proposals - especially the realignment and redevelopment proposals, which involve many legal, financial, and policy issues."

   ****

   The Analyst's Office believes that Brown wants the Legislature to pass a series of budget "trailer bills" that carry out policy changes to reduce spending by March 1, but that he wants to withhold the actual budget act until June, presumably after a special election. That game plan would require two-thirds votes from both houses, the Analyst believes.

   Republicans indicated Tuesday that they see the budget as the Democrats' problem alone. "This is really not our problem," said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale. "The Democrats own this, and we think that they should be giving us what the solutions are."

   Also of note: the Analyst's Office says that Brown wants to put his $11 billion tax package on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, which would also require a two-thirds vote. There has been some speculation that Democrats could put it on the ballot as a statutory initiative change, which might be done only on a majority vote..........................

* Los Angeles Times:  "Gov. Jerry Brown's budget a 'good starting point', nonpartisan analyst says" - "The spending plan is called 'more straightforward', with several 'bold ideas' for tackling California's chronic deficits. It calls for an extension of tax hikes and steep reductions in public services." - From the LAT:

   Gov. Jerry Brown's controversial spending blueprint got a welcome boost Wednesday when California's chief budget analyst called it a "good starting point" for tackling the state's chronic deficits.

   The review is far more flattering than the nonpartisan legislative analyst's office offered for many of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spending plans. In particular, the budget expert approves of Brown's general avoidance of accounting patches that in the past have substituted for politically unpopular solutions. "I think it is a more straightforward budget," said Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, who provides financial advice to lawmakers of both parties.

   ****

   The report was not all good news, though: Some of the governor's budget-balancing relies on overly optimistic assumptions that might not pan out, Taylor said. For instance, Brown counts on $1.7 billion in savings from dismantling redevelopment agencies; Taylor questioned whether that figure was realistic.
Some proposed cuts are too vague, he said, and past cuts from similar areas are tied up in the courts.

   The biggest risk is Brown's decision to ask voters to live for five more years with the tax increases that lawmakers passed in 2009, according to the analyst. Should the governor fail to get the Legislature to place the question on the ballot in a June election or to receive voters' blessing, the state would be faced with a gargantuan shortfall before the fiscal year begins in July. "There's clearly a lot riding on the election," Taylor said.

   Taylor also worried about the effect of prolonging the taxes on California's fragile economic recovery. Those levies are already "some of the highest in the country," he said. Brown wants to use the tax extension to fund many services that could be handled by local governments instead of Sacramento. Taylor endorsed that as good policy, but suggested the state would be staring over a fiscal cliff — again — in the sixth year. "What happens at the end of five years?" he asked.......................

* Sacramento Bee:  "Slain man's father upset about apology letter" - From the Bee:

   The father of a young man who was killed in a fight involving the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez said Wednesday he is upset about a letter former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent him after reducing the younger Núñez's prison sentence.

   On Jan. 2, his last day in office, Schwarzenegger cut the prison sentence of Esteban Núñez from 16 years to seven. He didn't contact the Santos family to seek their opinions before he issued his order. On Saturday, Fred Santos, the victim's father, said a letter from Schwarzenegger arrived at his home "out of the blue." The letter, dated Jan. 5, acknowledged that commuting the sentence caused Santos and his wife "more pain." "I recognize that the last minute nature of my final acts as governor provided you no notice, no time to prepare for or absorb the impact of this decision," he wrote. "For that, I apologize."

   Schwarzenegger added that the "facts of this case" do not support giving Esteban Núñez the same sentence as another man who wielded the knife that killed their son. "As a father," Schwarzenegger wrote, "I believe there is no sentence too harsh for the death of your son. But our system of justice demands that the facts of this case be weighed without the passion of a father's rage."

   Santos said the letter "was a little too late" and struck him as a response to the criticism he and others leveled at Schwarzenegger after the order was announced. "This is a letter of apology written by some professional writer," he said. "We would have liked to have known about this in December. It would have given us a chance to try to talk him out of it (the commutation)."

   ****

   Santos said that he was talking with legal scholars about options in court, including possibly suing to reverse the commutation. He said his family never knew a commutation was being considered and didn't get a chance to counter appeals Schwarzenegger received on behalf of Núñez. "We had no idea, no inkling that they would do such a dirty trick," Santos said. "This is a favor from one politician to another." He said he feels his family's "constitutional rights as victims" were violated because Schwarzenegger didn't advise them first of his plan.

   University of California, Davis, criminal law professor Floyd Feeney said it may be difficult to challenge the commutation. He doubted that state laws requiring notification of victims' families in sentencing and parole matters would apply.

Thursday
Jan132011

L.A. CITY HALL: Los Angeles City Council approves plan to privatize city garages

***After a marathon session (including a closed three-hour session on the issue), the Los Angeles City Council has now voted to move forward with a plan to privatize nine city-owned garages, many of which are located in Hollywood and Westwood....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Los Angeles council proceeds with garage leasing plan" - "Rejecting opposition from business owners, lawmakers say the alternative is cutting services." - From the LAT:

   Despite opposition from business owners who warned of rising parking costs, the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to forge ahead with a plan to lease nine of the city's public garages in the hopes of generating cash to rescue this year's budget.

   Confronted by angry residents from Westwood, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and elsewhere, council members said they faced a choice between making new reductions to parks, public safety and the planning department and continuing to subsidize below-market rates at city-owned garages. "I don't know about you, but that's a slam-dunk for me," Councilman Richard Alarcon said. "As much as I respect those businesses that have benefited from free parking, we cannot cut services throughout the city."

   After a three-hour closed-door meeting on the topic, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said the council had voted unanimously to submit a parking garage concession agreement to potential private operators. That vote paves the way for an agreement to be released next week and a company to be selected in March, he said.

   Santana said the garage plan had been revised during the closed-door meeting but would not say how. But Council President Eric Garcettii said after the meeting that he had "listened" to complaints of Hollywood business owners and "would not have voted" for an agreement that did not protect its business district.

   ****

   Wednesday's vote came after Villaraigosa, budget officials and scores of city workers warned that the council would have to lay off more employees if it failed to select a private company to run the garages for the next 50 years. The lease is supposed to generate $53 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Union leaders said they were especially upset that council members were weighing more furloughs, or unpaid days off, at the same time that they were thinking of dropping the garage plan.

   ****

   Villaraigosa and Santana contend that parking garages are not a "core service" of City Hall and should therefore be turned over to a private company. Those statements drew a sharp response from Laura Lake, co-president of Save Westwood Village, a group that opposes the inclusion of the Broxton garage in the proposed parking deal. If the city opposes subsidies for parking garages then it should also embrace the decision by Gov. Jerry Brown to eliminate its redevelopment agency, a department that routinely doles out subsidies to businesses across the city, Lake said. Some redevelopment "has been socialism for the rich," Lake said. "And if this city believes in the marketplace for parking, they should believe in the marketplace for redevelopment."

   The council voted unanimously earlier this week to oppose plans to eliminate the redevelopment agency.

* Daily News:  "Council OKs plan to lease city garages" - "Deal expected to bring in $53 million, but not until July 1." - From the DN:

   After a full day of contentious debate, Los Angeles City Council members agreed Wednesday to move forward with a plan to lease city garages, but the money will not likely arrive in time to help bridge this year's $63million budget gap. Leasing the garages for 50 years is expected to raise an immediate $53million - and up to $1 billion over time - and is supported by most city workers, who've been told to expect more layoffs and furloughs if the plan does not go ahead.

   ****

   Business owners and executives, whose customers have enjoyed subsidized rates at some of the garages, spoke out against the plan at a council meeting that lasted most of the day and drew more than 100 speakers. City budget advisers have recommended that the city lease the garages as well as make dramatic cuts to services to rein in spending.

   ****

   Of the more than 100 people testifying, many were firefighters, city civilian workers and those on contract for programs dealing with gangs and graffiti - all of whom face program cuts, furloughs or layoffs if the lease plan does not go through. But opposing the issue were cadres of business leaders from Hollywood and Westwood, who argued the plan would threaten local businesses' ability to compete with neighboring cities. If council members do not accept the garage deal, they were told they will need to make drastic cuts in services with possible layoffs of up to 1,000 workers or add 10 more furlough days to the 26 that workers now have to take.

* San Francisco Chronicle (AP):  "LA decides to lease parking spaces for cash" - From the Chronicle:

   The Los Angeles City Council has agreed to lease several parking garages to private operators to boost the city's depleted coffers. City News Service reports the council also decided Wednesday to grant concessions to business and community groups that have been seeking continued discounts on parking fees, but details were not disclosed because the discussion was held in closed session.

   City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana says the city will present its proposed terms for leasing the garages to potential bidders on Friday.

   The council also postponed until Friday a decision on whether to authorize another round of budget cuts, which could include additional furlough days for city employees.

Wednesday
Jan122011

POLITICS (National): Illinois General Assembly approves large temporary tax increases on personal and corporate income, effort to deal with $15 billion state budget deficit....  

***As noted here the other day, the state of Illinois -- which many observers view as facing the worst fiscal situation in the U.S. -- appeared to be closing in on a legislative package of various tax increases. Los Angeles Times reports that the tax increases have been approved, much to the "glee" of neighboring states that see this as an opportunity to steal business away from Illinois....

* Los Angeles Times (AP):  "Neighboring states gleeful over Ill. tax increase" - "Illinois neighbors gleefully plot to take advantage of what they consider a major economic blunder and tax business away from Illinois." - From the LAT:

   While many states consider boosting their economies with tax cuts, Illinois officials are betting on the opposite tactic:  dramaatically raising taxes to resolve a budget crisis that threatened to cripple state government.

   Neighboring states gleefully  plotted Wednesday to take advantage of what they consider a major ecnomic blunder and lure business away from Illlinois. "It's like living next door to 'The Simpsons' -- you know, the dysfunctional family down the block," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in an interview on Chicago's WLS-AM.

   But economic experts scoffed at imagines of highways packed with moving vans as businesses leave Illinois. Income taxes are just one piece of the puzzle when businesses decide where to locate of expand, they said, and states should be cooperating instead of trying to poach jobs from one another. "The idea of competing on state tax rates is hopelessly out of date", said Ed Morrison, economic policy advisor at the Purdue Center for Regional Development. "It demonstrates that political leadership is really out of step with what the global competitive realities are."

   By going where no other state dares to tread, Illinois could prove itself to be a policy pacesetter of the opposite -- a place so dysfunctional that officials created a jaw-dropping budget crisis and then tried to fix it by knee-capping the economy.................

Wednesday
Jan122011

AFTERNOON MEMOS: Jerry Brown proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies, impact on downtown L.A.; Expo Line, request by Culver City for shuttle service, street improvements; high-speed rail, report suggests linking L.A. to San Diego and Riverside.... 

***Thanks to Curbed L.A. for item noting requests by Culver City for grants to fund shuttle service and various street improvements related to the Expo Line stop in Culver City. Also, Downtown News commentary regarding the potential local impact of Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies. Thanks also to Curbed L.A. for link to Press-Enterprise item discussing high-speed rail usefulness.....

* Downtown News:  "Gov. Brown's Budget a Blow to Downtown Redevelopment" - "Elimination of the Community Redevelopment Agency Would Kill Plans for Cleantech Corridor and More Affordable Housing." - From the DTN:

   Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget eliminates a looming $25 billion deficit, but it comes at the sake of a city institution that is perhaps the most important driver of Downtown redevelopment.

   Brown’s bold plan would eliminate redevelopment agencies across the state, including the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which oversees seven individual project areas in Downtown. The CRA, like other redevelopment agencies, reinvests a portion of local property taxes known as tax increment into economic development projects and affordable housing in blighted areas. “The only way for us to really generate revenue to do serious economic development in areas defined as blighted, according to the legal definition, is redevelopment,” said Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry................

* Curbed L.A.:  "Culver City Seeks Shuttle Buses, Street Improvements For Expo Line" - From Curbed L.A.:

   With the Expo Line going through Culver City, the city is submitting requests to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority for grants for various improvements around the railway and the Expo Line stop, according to Culver City Patch. Among other things, Culver City is seeking "Feeder Shuttle Service Vehicles," a service that would provide "three shuttles that would connect train riders with downtown Culver City and the Hayden Tract employment centers," according to Patch. The cost is $360,000, according to the site. Additionally, the city is seeking new sidewalks and bike lanes around Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, specifically on Jefferson Boulevard.

* Press-Enterprise:  "Bullet trains from LA to San Diego, Riverside work best" - From the PE:

   A new report on high-speed rail usefulness has found there might be more ridership potential for routes in Southern California that stay close to home. Linking Los Angeles to San Diego and Riverside have the highest scores when population and potential riders near possible stations are considered, according to America 2050, a national planning group. The group released its national high-speed rail report today.

   Because they all have large populations in close proximity, officials believe LA, San Diego and Riverside could develop frequent, quick trips via bullet trains, the report suggested. Longer trips, such as the Los Angeles-San Francisco link California high-speed rail officials have prioritized, also score well, the report said. Less appealing, but still showing promise, are connections to desert locales such as Las Vegas.

   America 2050, which has supported high-speed rail development, and other supporters have said bullet trains work best when they can provide frequent, timely connections with few stops. Opponents of high-speed rail have questioned the reliability of ridership estimates, and noted the cost of bullet train systems are prohibitive.

Wednesday
Jan122011

POLITICS: Tim Rutten commentary, "pain everywhere" in Jerry Brown's budget plan; Huizar has large fundraising lead in CD 14 election; father of Luis Santos says he received apology letter from Schwarzenegger regarding reduction in Esteban Nunez prison sentence.... 

* Los Angeles Times (Tim Rutten op-ed):  "Brown's budget plan - pain everywhere" - "Gov. Brown's budget proposes $12.5 billion in cuts and $12 billion in tax extensions." - From the LAT:

   Every governmental budget is inevitably a political document, and the crisis blueprint Gov. Jerry Brown proposes for California is, depending on your perspective, either breathtakingly cynical or strategically masterful. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

   When you round things out, the budget Brown introduced Monday proposes $12.5 billion in cuts and $12 billion in tax extensions that will have to be approved by voters in a special election this spring. It's a document that spreads its wrenching pain in a more-or-less balanced fashion, with what amounts to about a 50% diminution in the health and welfare spending on which the neediest Californians depend offset by reductions in benefits popular with the business community — for example, abolition of the state's 397 redevelopment agencies.

   ****

   Brown at 72 is a shrewd and experienced operator with California politics in his DNA. When it comes to his own party and these hideously painful cuts in social welfare spending, he's Nixon on his way to China. The partisan true believers in his own party simply are outflanked by his fiscal realism. As he told John Myers of KQED on Monday, his vision of a governmentally realigned California includes reimagining his own role as governor. "There are very different views of what the state needs," Brown said, "and I'm not going to try to resolve that. As the chief executive here, I'm trying to forge a consensus, a wider agreement, get people out of their ideological positioning."

   Brown's vision of a reformed state isn't a particularly humane one. Let's hope it's a sound one.

* Downtown News:  "Huizar Takes Large Lead Fundraising Lead in Council Race" - From the DTN:

   With less than two months until the election for the 14th District City Council seat, incumbent José Huizar has taken a large lead in fundraising over his competitor, restaurateur and reality TV personality Rudy Martinez. According to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission and due yesterday, Huizar raised $113,961 in the reporting period between October and December 2010. In that same timeframe, Martinez raised $7,200.

   The figures give Huizar a commanding lead in cash on hand. The councilman first elected in 2005 and re-elected two years later currently has more than $320,000 at his disposal; Martinez has $133,000 available, according to the Ethics Commission....................
   Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went out with a bang last week, turning what might have been his last lazy Sunday in office into a flex of very un-girly political muscle -- heard 'round California and the nation.
   For one lucky "Bad Lilttle Suburban Boy," 22-year-old Esteban Nuñéz, Schwarzenegger's tight relationship with California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñéz, the boy's father, means 11 years off his remaining 16-year sentence. Nuñez stabbed San Diego State University student Luis Santos to death in 2009. If only we could all have parents in the Legislature...
 

   The commute apparently caused such an uproar that, KNX Radio reports this morning, Schwarzenegger ended up sending a letter of apology to Fred Santos. But Santos says that won't stop him from suing. "He tries to give some excuses of his actions and give an apology. We do thank him for at least writing a letter," Santos said on air. "But we think that if there was never any outrage over his actions, we would never have received this letter."

   The worked-up father went on to say that the half-assed letter is only further confirmation that Schwarzenegger knew his gift to the Nuñéz family was not granted with justice in mind.

   ****

   Santos has not announced the details of the lawsuit.