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Saturday
Apr022011

POLITICS: Vernon disincorporation legislation, ethics advisor John Van de Kamp complaint regarding city promotional ad, "I'm not here to flak...for the city"....

***John Van de Kamp, who has been hired by the city of Vernon in connection as part of the preparation of an independent audit of city operations, is not happy with how the city has used his involvement with the audit in a promotional ad....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Vernon ethics advisor says he was misled about ad" - "Former state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp said he thought he was being interviewed for a newspaper article, not a promotional campaign for the scandal-plagued city." - From the LAT:

   A prominent attorney who was hired by Vernon to do an independent audit of its scandal-tainted City Hall criticized city officials for misleading him into cooperating with a promotional ad he thought was a newspaper story. The ads, which appeared in several newspapers this week, show two photos of former state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp and include an interview in which he discusses the report he was commissioned to write about the industrial city south of downtown Los Angeles.

   Van de Kamp said the city arranged for him to be interviewed by a reporter. But officials did not tell him it was for a large, full-color advertisement touting the virtues of the embattled city. He said he didn't know about the ad until he saw it in Pasadena Star-News on Thursday morning. "I'm not here to…flak for the city," Van de Kamp said. "We're out here trying to do a straightforward, objective job. So that format is a problem for me."

   ****

   The advertisement features a smiling Van de Kamp overlooking a downtown Los Angeles vista. There is a question and answer segment as well as a section, in larger type, praising Vernon's economic value to the region, which Van de Kamp described as "a plum piece for Vernon."

   Van de Kamp's involvement as an independent ethics advisor is a centerpiece of Vernon's campaign to stave off a bill by Assemblyman John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) to disincorporate the city. Perez has accused the largely industrial city, which has fewer than 100 residents, of being a fiefdom run for the economic benefit of a small cadre of officials. Vernon's former city administrator is currently facing public corruption charges. Five years ago, prosecutors filed public corruption charges against the longtime mayor and another city administrator.

   Along with Van de Kamp, who was also the Los Angeles County district attorney, the city has hired Robert Stern, former general counsel of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. They are being paid $550 and $450 an hour respectively by the city.

   Fred MacFarlane, Vernon's media consultant, called the advertisements a mistake. He said that he had suggested Van de Kamp as a subject for an advertisement to representatives of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group publications. Vernon has purchased a series of advertisements from the group, some of which have already been published. "I never should have suggested Mr. Van de Kamp, plain and simple. I cost my client, and did damage to Mr. Van de Kamp's reputation for having done so," MacFarlane said, adding that he planned to apologize. He said that Van de Kamp and other attorneys completing the ethics review were working independently from city officials.

   ****

   The interviewer, Edward Barrera, is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor. In an interview Friday, Barrera said that he never identified himself as a reporter to Van De Kamp, and that he assumed that everything had been explained to him prior to the call. "The miscommunication certainly wasn't on my end," he said.

   Afterward, Van de Kamp said he mentioned the interview during a conference call with his team of Vernon ethics advisors. One of them, Cynthia Kurtz — president and chief executive officer of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership — said that she noticed Vernon had advertising contracts with the newspaper chain. The next day, he saw the ad, which took up nearly two full pages. "I thought, 'Good grief,' " he said. "I saw the print and thought, 'That doesn't look like a regular article.' "

   Van de Kamp said he is not reconsidering his work for the city. He said he expected some bumps in the road, adding that he feels Whitworth really wants to "do the right thing" as far as making positive changes in Vernon. "How far that goes is the $64 question," Van de Kamp said.

Saturday
Apr022011

L.A. POLITICS/BUSINESS: "The 42 Most Powerful People in Downtown"

***Downtown News has put together a list of those individuals regarded by the paper as the 42 most powerful people in downtown L.A., in politics, business, labor, entertainment + media and non-profits.  No. 42 on the list is Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt; No. 1 is AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is No. 5....

* Downtown News:  "The 42 Most Powerful People in Downtown" - "Ranking the Movers and Shakers of the Central City" - From the DTN:

   Power is often amorphous, something you can recognize more than touch. Anyone who has spent a few years in Downtown Los Angeles has a good sense of who’s got juice.

   This begs two important questions: 1) In a community chock full of power players, who are the most powerful?, and 2) How do you rank them?

   Those who wield power in Downtown come primarily from a few fields: The top of the top in politics, business, labor and entertainment make most of the decisions that make the community go. There are also a few media and nonprofit folk who guide the civic discussion.

   When it comes to determining the order, there’s a simple exercise: Pretend you’re a Downtowner with a modicum of power (though not enough for this roster). One afternoon you’re talking on the phone with, for example, the 18th most powerful person on the list, developer Jim Thomas. Suddenly, your assistant rushes in with a piece of paper saying there’s a call on the other line. If that person is less powerful than Thomas, you direct your assistant to say you’re not available.

   If the caller ranks higher, you tell Thomas, “Jim, I’m really sorry, but I’ve got Person X on the other line. I need to take it.” Specifying who it is shows that you have some sway, and also that you’re only breaking off a call with Jim Thomas for a darn good reason. When you say who the call is from, he may not like being cut off, but he’ll understand that you don’t keep Person X waiting. That’s part of the game. As you read the list, ask yourself, “Would I hang up on this person for this other person?”

   Here it is, the 2011 Downtown Power List...............

Saturday
Apr022011

L.A. CITY HALL: "Six-month report on Mayor Villaraigosa", Daily News editorial....

***Daily News report card -- analysis + recommendations for how to achieve improvements and a better grade -- on the mayor's performance with regard to various city services/departments which the paper had previously argued needed the mayor's special attention.....

* Daily News:  "Six-month report on Mayor Villaraigosa" - From the DN:

   In July, the Daily News launched a two-month long series of editorials taking on Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for his apparent mid-term malaise. In the series, which wrapped up in September, we outlined seven areas of city services/departments that were in serious crisis and needed his special attention. Then we assigned a grade of the mayor's performance in each, ranging from "excellent" at the high end and "dismal" at the low end.

   At the outset, Villaraigosa accepted the Daily News' challenge. Now, at the mid-way mark, we look back to see how well he has succeeded.

   To determine this, we sat down with mayoral staffers and department heads, looked at Villaraigosa's progress on some key issues and then awarded a mid-year grade that reflected his performance. We also came up with suggestions for how the mayor could end the year with our full high marks. The fruits of this labor are below:

   PLANNING AND LAND USE

   Original score: Poor
   Six-month score: Fair

   ****

  ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

   Original score: Fair
   Six-month score: Fair

   ****

   EDUCATION

   Original score: Good
   Six-month score: Good

   ****

   RESTRUCTURING GOVERNMENT

   Original score: Dismal
   Six-month score: Poor

   ****

   PENSIONS

   Original score: Poor
   Six-month score: Fair+

   ****

   PUBLIC SAFETY

   Original score: Good
   Six-month score: Good

   ****

   DWP

   Original score: Dismal
   Six-month score: Fair

   ****

   OVERALL

   Original score: Poor
   Six month score: Fair+

   It's a modest bump up, but it shows that Villaraigosa is re-engaging more fully with Los Angeles. As six-month reviews go, we're pleased, but expect better performance in the future.

Saturday
Apr022011

SACRAMENTO: FPPC, other high profile enforcement actions; CalPERS, management switch for real estate portfolio, to a Los Angeles firm

* Sacramento Bee:  "CalPERS puts $570 million real estate portfolio under management" - From the Bee:

   CalPERS replaced another outside investment partner Friday. The pension fund said it's switching management of a $570 million real estate portfolio to Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, a prominent Los Angeles firm. The portfolio, which includes office, industrial and apartment properties, has been managed by Deutsche Bank subsidiary RREEF. Although the California Public Employees Retirement System announced the switch in a news release, spokesman Wayne Davis said the move hasn't been finalized.

   CalPERS didn't say why it's making the switch. Canyon and RREEF declined comment.

   ****

   Canyon manages and has developed billions of dollars worth of property. One of its assets is the Cal Neva Resort at Lake Tahoe. Once owned by Frank Sinaatra, it was taken over by Canyon two years ago in a foreclosure proceeding. A Canyon affiliate invests in urban real estate projects with basketball legend Magic Johnson. 

* Sacramento Bee:  "L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, others facing ethics fines" -  From the Bee:

   ****

   Villaraigosa's case is among several higher profile enforcements the FPPC will consider on April 11, including:

   • Jerome Horton, a Democrat who now sits on the state's tax-collecting Board of Equalization, illegally rolled more than $100,000 from his failed 2006 BOE election campaign into a 2008 state Senate campaign. According to the FPPC, Horton said he sent "letters to all of the contributors whose funds were transferred" to give them a chance to object. Horton also didn't disclose that he controlled a committee that paid for mailings in a 2009 Inglewood school district race. The name of the committee: "Citizens to Elect Honest Officials."

   Horton said he didn't understand that the mailings disclosure law applied to him at the time. He has agreed to pay a $13,000 fine for the four violations.

   • Former Lt. Gov. and Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado failed 14 times to file various contribution reports from 2004 to 2008. He has agreed to pay a $28,000 fine.

   ****

   • The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Tule River Indian Tribe and Deloitte Consulting LLP didn't report that they were paying Sacramento lobbyist Frank J. Molina of Strategic Solutions Advisors hundreds of thousands of dollars from January 2008 through December 2009. Molina, who has also come under scrutiny for failure to report, told his clients that he had filed the disclosures on their behalf. Once they learned the reports hadn't been filed, they did so......

Saturday
Apr022011

L.A. CITY HALL: Mayor's free tickets, more info/details regarding assessment of fines for accepting tickets without reporting them as gifts....

***More reports, commentary today regarding the mayor's acceptance of free tickets and the fine(s) he has agreed to pay (from his legal defense funds), along with an explanation as to how some of this is being determined and by the ethics enforcement authorities....

* Los Angeles Times:  "L.A. mayor to pay fines for accepting free tickets for pricey events" - From the LAT:

   Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has agreed to pay nearly $42,000 in fines to resolve state and city investigations into his practice of accepting tickets to sports events, concerts and other pricey entertainment activities without reporting them as gifts. The penalty would be the largest of its kind under California's ethics law if approved by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the city Ethics Commission.

   In a pact drafted by officials with both agencies, Villaraigosa acknowledged that he had failed to report free tickets to 34 events during his first five years in office, including Los Angeles Lakers games and concerts at such venues as Staples Center, L.A. Live and Universal City's Gibson Amphitheatre.

   For months, the mayor had insisted that his acceptance of tickets to at least 85 events did not violate state law because at the time he was performing ceremonial duties, such as throwing out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game. Villaraigosa's lawyers also had asserted that there was confusion surrounding the laws that govern politicians' attendance at major events. And they said the mayor went to expensive events such as the Academy Awards, the American Idol Finale and concerts by Shakira and the Spice Girls as the city's official representative. The mayor's office did not keep track of the duties performed at those events, some of which were staged by companies with business pending before his office.

   FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said there were occasions when Villaraigosa's activities should still have been reported as gifts. "There's no question that when he was appearing at these events, he was performing some type of official activity," Porter said. "But it didn't rise to the level of a ceremonial duty."

   ****

   To pay off the fine, Villaraigosa has created three legal defense funds: one for the city, one for the state and one for the ongoing inquiry by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. The mayor's lawyers believe that that inquiry will end once the fines are paid, mayoral aides said........

* San Francisco Chronicle (AP):  "L.A. mayor to be fined for free tickets" - From the Chronicle:

   ****

   The Democratic mayor said he attended more 3,000 events during the timeframe scrutinized by the commissions — from when he took office in 2005 through 2010 — and that the violations represent just a fraction of his public appearances.

   ****

   The 12 city violations were for cases in which the mayor accepted tickets from restricted sources — companies that employed lobbyists or had permits approved by the City Council — whose value exceeded the $100 annual limit in the Los Angeles Municipal Code. Among them were the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Anschutz Entertainment Group, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

   The 21 counts for violating the state's Fair Political Practices Act were levied because the mayor did not report the gifts, which exceeded the $50 limit on his required statements of economic interest. Those violations could have carried a maximum penalty of $105,000, but the state staff recommended a lesser fine, citing Villaraigosa's "lack of prior enforcement history ... his full cooperation and candor during the investigation of this matter, and his willingness to admit liability and be held accountable for his violations."

   Nevertheless, the state agency staff said the mayor should have known better than to accept the gifts, which included concerts by Aretha Franklin and others, and award shows ranging from the Grammys to the Golden Globes. "Villaraigosa has been in office in one capacity or another for almost 20 years. He has received ethics training regarding the rules of gift disclosure on numerous occasions over the span of his career," the staff wrote. He also could have sought legal advice from state and local ethics commissions, the staff said.

   The $41,849 fine leveled against Villaraigosa by the state and city ethics commissions exceeds the previous record fine issued against a politician by the state. In 2005, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined Eileen McDonald $29,000 for conflicts of interest while she was a member of the Newark Unified School District board.

   The commission has issued much larger fines in cases involving campaign finance violations, some involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

***ALSO, an opinion about all of this from RonKayeLA:  "Equal Justice Under Law for All -- Except Antonio"