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Tuesday
Jul132010

News of the Day: Tuesday, July 13

* Willie Brown -- on pension reform and his advice to the governor at their meeting last week in Sacramento..... 

   Arnold Schwarzenegger invited me up for a roundtable discussion on pension reform Thursday. The table was round, all right, but it was really just a stage for Arnold to reiterate his demand for changes in the state workers' pension plans before he signs a budget. Naturally, the unions are against it. 

   As an old pro, I should have known this meeting was a setup, but I fell for it.  What Arnold really wants to do is cut current pension benefits to what they were before lawmakers made them much more generous in 1999.  I told him I was glad he wants to undo changes from 1999 - I was out of the Assembly by then, so it is one problem I can't be blamed for creating.

   After the roundtable, we had a few words alone. The governor asked me what I would do with his proposed budget if I were still speaker of the Assembly.  "I'd pass it as-is," I said. "Then I would hang it around your neck, because I know damn well that half the numbers are wrong and that you really don't want to make half the cuts that you are proposing. I'd have you over your own barrel."  "You would do that?" he said, a little taken aback. Then, leaning forward, he whispered, "You haven't shared that idea with anyone else, have you?"  (SF Chronicle)

* Port of San Diego lobbyist fired....  Prominent Sacramento lobbyist Susan McCabe has been fired by the Port of San Diego after a Los Angeles Times report last week detailed emails in which she referred to several members of the California Coastal Commission as the "toxic five" and boasted of "spoon feeding" a commissioner while attempting to secure his vote on a controversial project.  McCabe and her company are known for representing high-profile clientele (developers, landowners and local governments) before the Coastal Commission.  According to the LAT, the company's website notes the city of Los Angeles on her client list.  (LAT)

* Community opposition, opposition from Rosendahl and Koretz, force developer to pull 1.3 million- square-foot Bundy Village project from L.A. City Council calendar.  At least until October, and possibly for longer....

   When even fellow developers and local politicians looking to generate jobs call your proposed project way too big, it's probably time to go back to the drawing board.  That appears to be the case with the plan for Bundy Village & Medical Park, which earlier this year prompted street protests, petition drives and hundreds of "Fight Bundy Village" lawn signs from Westchester to Pacific Palisades.

   The Los Angeles Planning Commission in March approved the proposed 1.3-million-square-foot complex of medical offices, retail stores and housing despite residents' and business concerns about increased traffic in the busy Olympic Boulevard corridor. Los Angeles City Council's planning and land use management committee was to take up the matter later this month, with a full council vote anticipated soon after.  But push-back from neighborhood groups and Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz spurred the developer, Westside Medical Park, to ask that further consideration be postponed. The committee is scheduled to take up the matter on Oct. 5, with a council vote planned for Oct. 20.  Those dates, too, might be premature, said Dale Goldsmith, an attorney for Westside Medical Park, of which Stonebridge Holdings Inc. is the managing partner. "Westside Medical Park will not bring the project before the City Council until we believe that we have adequately addressed all legitimate concerns," he said.   (LAT)

* Westfield's plans for a $750-million megaball connecting its Promenada and Topanga Plaza shopping malls are being scaled back, a lot...  Daily News reports that space for a retail anchor has been added to the original plan that was announced amid great fanfare three years ago.  This will be for a 146,000-square-foot Costco store.  The plan still includes a hotel and an office building but on a smaller scale than in the earlier plan and also the elimination of nearly 500,000 square feet of condos and apartments that had been part of the earlier scope.  Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents Woodland Hills, says he likes the new plan, especially the decision to eliminate the housing component in an areas that is already experiencing "a glut of housing.".  Area residents are not quite so pleased, particularly in terms of concerns about the emphasis on retail and the traffic -- more traffic -- being drawn to the area by way of the Costco store.  (DN)

* What to do with Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch?  Sacramento Bee reports that the NAACP is backing a resolution introduced by Assemblyman Mike Davis (Los Angeles) to convert the approximately 2,600-acre property into a state park.  No indication, though, as to how anyone might raise the funds to acquire the property from Colony Capital, a private-equity firm that acquired the ranch when Jackson was facing foreclosure in 2008.  (Sac Bee)

* Washington Post-ABC News poll:  Declining public confidence in Obama, new low in polling numbers.....  From today's Washington Post, page A1:

   Public confidence in President Obama has hit a new low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Four months before midterm elections that will define the second half of his term, nearly six in 10 voters say they lack faith in the president to make the right decisions for the country, and a clear majority once again disapproves of how he is dealing with the economy.  Regard for Obama is still higher than it is for members of Congress, but the gap has narrowed. About seven in 10 registered voters say they lack confidence in Democratic lawmakers and a similar proportion say so of Republican lawmakers.

   Overall, more than a third of voters polled -- 36 percent -- say they have no confidence or only some confidence in the president, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans. Among independents, this disillusionment is higher still. About two-thirds of all voters say they are dissatisfied with or angry about the way the federal government is working.   Such broad negative sentiments have spurred a potent anti-incumbent mood. Just 26 percent of registered voters say they are inclined to support their representative in the House this fall; 62 percent are inclined to look for someone new.

   Democrats nationally remain on the defensive as they seek to retain both houses of Congress this fall. Registered voters are closely divided on the question of whether they will back Republicans or Democrats in House races. Among those who say they are sure to cast ballots in November, 49 percent side with the GOP and 45 percent with Democrats.  Overall, a slim majority of all voters say they would prefer Republican control of Congress so that the legislative branch would act as a check on the president's policies. Those most likely to vote in the midterms prefer the GOP over continued Democratic rule by a sizable margin of 56 percent to 41 percent.

   ***

   On the question of Obama's leadership, 42 percent of registered voters now say they have confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country, with 58 saying they do not. At the start of his presidency, about six in 10 expressed confidence in his decision-making.  Obama's overall job-approval rating stands at 50 percent, equaling his low point in Post-ABC polling; 47 percent disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first time in his presidency, those who strongly disapprove now significantly outnumber those who strongly approve.

     Among those who say they definitely will vote in November, 53 percent disapprove of the way he is handling his responsibilities.  The president's approval ratings reached a new low among whites, at 40 percent, with his positive marks dipping under 50 percent for the first time among white college-educated women.

    On the issues tested in the poll, Obama's worst ratings come on his handling of the federal budget deficit, where 56 percent disapprove and 40 percent approve. He scores somewhat better on health-care reform (45 percent approve) and regulation of the financial industry (44 percent). His best marks come on his duties as commander in chief, with 55 percent approving.  (WP)

* Blagojevich:  "[Bleep] the public."  From the Washington Post:

  The former Illinois governor may or may not have broken the law, but he sure did hate his job. He reviled his political enemies, mocked many of the candidates for a vacant U.S. Senate seat and disparaged the voters who failed to appreciate his talents.  Also, six weeks into the trial, defense attorneys are working to suggest that Blagojevich was a dim bulb, stumbling along under the guidance of smarter aides.  And that hours of secret tape recordings reveal a governor who felt bored and trapped in a job he detested. He envied Obama as he closed in on the presidency, a job Blagojevich coveted. He lamented his financial troubles and talked at length about cutting a deal to name Valerie Jarrett, an Obama friend, to the Senate seat.  (WP)

Monday
Jul122010

News of the Day: Monday, July 12

* Why no stimulus money to fix California's budget hole this year?  Because so much of it was used up for the same purpose last year.....  From the Sacramento Bee:

   Facing a dismal budget crisis last year, California relied on a federal lifeline of stimulus dollars. The cash infusion staved off the bleakest of cuts to Medi-Cal patients, welfare recipients and students.  But that money is beginning to run dry, leaving California grappling with whether to replace it by raising taxes or institute the severe cuts the state avoided last year.  The state already has exhausted some pots of stimulus money, such as one for higher education. Others will expire in the next year....

   Federal leaders presumed that an economic recovery by next year would provide more tax revenue   and pick up the slack. But California remains mired in an economic malaise, and the unemployment rate is 12.4 percent.  "I think the original assumptions were that we'd be much further along in our economic recovery by the time the money was spent," said Michael Cohen, deputy legislative analyst in the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. "If the economy goes along at what we're projecting, when the federal dollars go away, we're going to be left with a good-sized budget problem."

   California is set to receive $3.7 billion in state budget help this year – $5 billion less than the state used to balance last year's spending plan, according to the Department of Finance. That difference represents more than a quarter of the state's $19.1 billion deficit.  (Sac Bee)

* What is the most expensive LAUSD school ever constructed (and possibly even most expensive in the nation)?   Daily News reports that the answer is the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, a K-12 complex being built at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, which has already cost $572 million....and that a request for another $6 million in funding is set to come before the LAUSD board this week.  

   The school will consist of six different learning centers and enroll 4,260 students, making the cost per seat about $135,000 – nearly 40 percent higher than the average school built in the central Los Angeles area over the past two years.   It even exceeds the per-seat cost of the pricey High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, whose $132,000 per-seat price tag – along with its bold, roller-coaster inspired architecture – raised plenty of eyebrows when it opened in September 2009.  (DN)

 * Foreign students at community colleges paying big bucks....  No surprise that foreign students are paying big bucks to attend campuses within the UC system, but the latest is that they are also paying $5,332 for 12 units at California community colleges compared to $624 for the same number of units for in-state students.  (SF Chronicle)

* Sign regulation; legal issues, supergraphics and billboards....  From the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight (BBB), two interesting posts:

   Appeals Court Won't Reconsider Ruling Upholding L.A. Supergraphic Sign Ban  and

   City Council President Seeks Ban on New Supergraphic Signs in Hollywood

 

 




Sunday
Jul112010

AEG - Roski - EIR's/CEQA exemptions. And big $$$ in Sacramento....

From the San Jose Mercury News (via the Daily Breeze), two extensive pieces that would appear to have involved a lot of time, energy and research.  The two pieces, which seemingly highlight the influence of big $$$ and professional lobbyists, are captioned as follows:

"Stadium measure won with end run" - "Compton Assemblyman was tapped to introduce MaJestic Realty sponsored bill that would exempt the stadium from requirements of the state environmental law and remove the courts' power to hear the lawsuits." 

"Who Wrote That Bill?  Likely a Lobbyist" - "In California, 60 percent of laws passed over the last full session were sonsored by special interest groups."

From the first piece:

   Before Southern California billionaire Edward Roski Jr. could satisfy Los Angeles' craving for the return of professional football, he needed a stadium.  And before that stadium could be built, Roski needed to resolve a pair of lawsuits questioning whether his plan to build the venue on 592 acres in the City of Industry complied with the state's environmental laws.  So Roski — who with his wife and his development company have contributed more than $2 million to political campaigns in California over the past decade and who employs a fleet of lobbyists — used his connections to write a bill.

   The new law was needed to settle questions about whether Roski's Majestic Realty had followed the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act when Roski decided to build a 75,000-seat stadium on land where he had previously proposed a business and industrial park.  In making the switch, the developer simply amended a 2004 environmental impact report prepared for the previous project rather than conducting a new study.

****

   As the bill was introduced, Roski was in a hurry to meet an NFL deadline, and the legislative session was nearly over.  Assembly leaders sent the bill to the Arts and Entertainment Committee for consideration rather than to the Natural Resources Committee, which typically hears environmental issues. A half-hour hearing ended in unanimous approval.

   Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, believes the assignment was "rigged" to avoid rigorous scrutiny.  "We ask too many questions," he said. "The Natural Resources Committee would have killed this in a heartbeat."  Hours later, the bill went through the Appropriations Committee, again with unanimous support. The hearing was so hastily convened that a harried committee staffer erroneously wrote that the stadium project would create 120,000 jobs, not the 18,000 jobs that proponents had estimated.

   The very next day, the bill sailed on to the full Assembly.

***

   The new law has not yet accomplished Roski's dream of luring a team. Construction has not begun, and the NFL has proved considerably more difficult to persuade than state politicians.  But meanwhile, many believe the stadium bill has blasted a deep fissure in California's bedrock environmental laws.  In January, the governor proposed California Environmental Quality Act exemptions for 125 major public and private construction projects over a five-year period. And in February, four bills were introduced in the Legislature to carry out that plan.

   Assemblyman Huffman blames Roski's company-sponsored bill for the flurry. "Let's remember," he said, "the fruit of that poisonous tree goes back to that night."

 

And the second piece, which the author states is the first analysis ever undertaken of sponsored bills in California, grabs the reader with the following first few paragraphs:

   Imagine: At a time when California is lurching from crisis to crisis, a legislator has an idea to make life better. He writes a bill, gathers support and shepherds it into law.  If only Sacramento worked like that.

Instead, it often works like this:  A lobbyist has an idea to make life better - mainly for his client. The lobbyist writes the bill, shops for a lawmaker willing to introduce it and lines up the support. The legislator has to do little more than show up and vote.  Such is the path of the "sponsored bill," a method of lawmaking little noticed outside California's capital but long favored in the halls of the Legislature.

A Mercury News analysis found that in 2007-08, the most recent complete two-year legislative session, more than 1,800 bills — about 39percent — were sponsored by outside interests. Those sponsored bills constituted 60 percent of the legislation actually passed into law.  This is how plumbing manufacturers ensured that they, and not state regulators, would conduct the tests that determine whether drinking faucets sold in California are lead-free.

   This is how a Los Angeles County billionaire crushed a legal challenge to his plans for a new football stadium.

   "It's like being in a Middle Eastern bazaar," said former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, who represented the Bay Area city of Pittsburg from 2000 to 2006.  "You are surrounded by hawkers saying, `Take this one', 'No, take this one', 'No, I've got a better one over here.'  "The openness of that -- the 'Oh yeah, that's the way thigns are done' attitude -- was the most shocking."

Sunday
Jul112010

News of the Day: Sunday, July 11

* So, which is a bigger drawback to voters:  a candidate with a "scant voting record" or one who is viewed as being at the upper edge of an appropriate age bracket for holding high elected office? Does experience in business matter?  is gender an important factor?  what about experience working with elected officials?  -- From the Sacramento Bee....

   Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's scant voting record is viewed poorly by more than half of likely voters, but many aren't thrilled with Democratic rival Jerry Brown's age, either

   In a wide-ranging measure of the candidate characteristics that matter most to voters, a report released today by the nonpartisan Field Poll depicts an electorate that favors both political and business experience as well as progressive or moderate views.  Of likely voters surveyed, 54 percent said they are less inclined to vote for a candidate for high office who hasn't voted in many statewide elections, while 4 percent said they are more likely to. The difference – what Field calls the net negative effect – is 50 points.  Meanwhile, 37 percent of likely voters are less likely to vote for a candidate who is older than 70, according to the poll. Brown is 72.  (Sac Bee)

* And here at home in Los Angeles, Downtown News executive editor Jon Regardie ponders about "the seven most entertaining issues of the summer" in local politics, including:

   Richard Alarcon's residence  -- L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich  --  The Arizona boycott (and dealing with exemptions to the boycott)  -- City layoffs and the proposed library parcel tax  --  The deteriorating relationship between the DWP and the L.A. City Council (and, for that matter, the department's crediblity with the general public, as well...)  -- The recent rave  (fiasco?) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum  --  The mayor's free tickets....  (DTN)

* An abundance of riches for downtown residents, employees, shoppers?  There is now a Rite-Aid at the southeast corner of Seventh and Hope...along with a brand new Walgreen's at the northeast corner.  So, is this area -- this intersection -- big enough for for of them?  Downtown News checks them both out and offers some notes and comparisons on "The Drugstore Rumble".....  (DTN)

* For historians, engineers, architects, world travelers:  "The Life and Times of California's Greatest Bridge" -- Yes, this is about San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  And, according to SF Chronicle Book Editor John McMurtrie, the book, by preeminent California historian Kevin Starr, is worth reading.  Seems to be some interesting background, commentary, tidbits here.....  (SF Chronicle)

* Loyalty of black voters to Democratic Party candidates in this year's national elections, impact on voter turnout?  Washington Post analysis notes that, while African American voters remain overwhelmingly loyal to and supportive of Obama, this loyalty alone may not be enough to get black voters to turn out at the poll's in this year's mid-term elections.  Key questions and concerns are focused on whether or not the "surge" in black voters experienced in 2008 for Obama will in fact translate into voters for other candidates.  And how important is this to the Democatic Party?  So much so that the Democratic National Committee has launched a $50 million nationwide effort ito try to lure these "surge voters" back to the polls in November.  Also, in addition to concerns about this year, WP piece notes that, as party officials worry about this fall, Obama's strategists are looking to 2012.  (WP)

* And, speaking of elections, Washington Post also offers an interesting analysis regarding the perceived critical importance of this year's 37 gubernatorial elections in terms of long-term structural changes to government and governance, including redistricting, reapportionment, state budget policies and spending.  And, of course, the potential impact on the 2012 presidential election....  (WP)

* And amid all the hoopla over LeBron James -- and, indeed, a good deal of media criticism over the seemingly softball interview of "the King" by ESPN's James Gray -- I am going to put up at least one of these critiques:  an op-ed today by the New York Times' Maureen Dowd...

   After the heady courting, the King changed courts.  And there were such loud howls about betrayal, disloyalty, selfishness, revenge and intrigue that it might have impressed even a Shakespearean court.  “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach,” LeBron James told Jim Gray on ESPN’s special — and specially obnoxious — show, “The Decision,” as though he were going on spring break.

   It’s always a bad sign when people begin talking about themselves in the third person. “I wanted to do what was best, you know, for LeBron James, what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy,” LeBron James told Michael Wilbon on ESPN after the special.   ESPN’s 28 minutes of contrived suspense over James’s narcissistic announcement that he was going, aptly, to My-Am-Me played like “The Bachelor,” without the rose for the winner.

  ****

   James wanted to be wooed because he missed any courtship when he was drafted by the pros right out of high school. But the 25-year-old superstar, who tweets as King James and tattooed “Chosen 1” on his back, got lost in the stratosphere of sports marketing advice and wound up with too many people whispering in his ear. He seems to have no idea of the public relations damage he has inflicted on himself. 

  “Never has so much time, effort and money been expended by an individual to diminish himself,” Israel told me.   A sports TV executive I know agreed: “I don’t think he has any concept that people will be rooting against Miami harder than ever. These three players have attempted to hijack the league and said, ‘We’re all good buddies who are going to gang up and go to one team and dictate who wins championships.’ ”

   After seven years as the local hero, James should have shown more class than to let the Cleveland owner, coach and fans hear about his defection on TV, broadcasting from cosseted Greenwich to struggling Cleveland.  (NYT)

 

 



Saturday
Jul102010

News of the Day: Saturday, July 10

*  Newsom with nine-point lead over Maldonado; this is both good news and bad news for the San Francisco mayor.....  From the Sacramento Bee:

   There's good news and bad news for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.  The Field Poll released Friday found the Democrat leading Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado in their Nov. 2 showdown, 43 percent to 34 percent. 

   On the other hand, the voters who have an opinion about Maldonado like him better.  The former state senator from Santa Maria was viewed favorably by a quarter of the voters and unfavorably by 12 percent, a 2-1 positive ratio. Even Democrats have a 2-1 positive view of Maldonado.  The former state senator from Santa Maria was viewed favorably by a quarter of the voters and unfavorably by 12 percent, a 2-1 positive ratio. Even Democrats have a 2-1 positive view of Maldonado.

   Newsom, who climbed onto the national stage as a supporter of gay marriage, drew unfavorable marks from 41 percent of voters, compared with just 26 percent who hold positive views of him. Republicans dislike him by nearly a 7-1 margin, and nonpartisans view him negatively by a 2-1 ratio.  

   Newsom's lead, said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo, "is mostly a function of him being better known. The better known candidates tend to be ahead in the early going, but this race is not on a level playing field yet."  Maldonado could close the gap as the race plays out if he can maintain his favorable image, DiCamillo said, but Newsom has the opportunity to define the Republican negatively because nearly two-thirds of voters have no opinion of him.  (Sac Bee)

* Cooley with slight lead over Harris (also, more about Newsom...)  - From the San francisco Chronicle:

   Democrat (Kamala) Harris trails her opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, by just three percentage points. Nearly a third of likely voters are undecided in that race, the survey found.......

   While both Harris and Cooley are fairly unknown, she is also disliked by Republicans, the poll found. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats support her, while just 4 percent of Republicans said they would vote for the career prosecutor and 25 percent of Republicans said they view her unfavorably.  Cooley, meanwhile, enjoys the support of 75 percent of likely GOP voters and 14 percent of Democrats. However, about 70 percent of likely voters have no opinion about either candidate.  "She has a partisan image, but most voters don't have any opinion on either attorney general candidate," DiCamillo said.

    All voters, he said, have a more favorable than unfavorable perception of both of the GOP candidates. That's a good starting place for Cooley, he said. Democrats have a natural advantage because they have 13 percent more registered voters in the state.  Newsom and Harris "have more partisan images, that's for sure," DiCamillo said. "They seem to have already riled up the opposing side, whereas the Republicans seem to have this unusually (positive) profile among Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisans." 

  ***

   Geography is also at play in the both races. Voters in Northern California prefer Newsom by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, while Southern Californians appear evenly divided in the lieutenant governor's race. Meanwhile, Harris and Cooley each lead in their respective portions of the state.  (SF Chronicle)