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Sunday
Jul042010

News of the Day: Sunday, July 4

* "Tensions" at the Port of Los Angeles over slow progress on redeveloping the San Pedro waterfront and Ports 'o Call Village.   Donna Littlejohn report in the Daily Breeze notes some of the rhetoric (and fingerpointing?) that surfaced this past week when the issue was discussed by the Board of Harbor Commissioners, with local area Councilwoman Janice Hahn expressing her displeasure and with the Port leadership responding with their respective:

  It's been almost a decade since the Harbor Area formally began pushing to develop its waterfront.  After a quick start, deadlines began to come and go - 2007, 2008, 2009. Dozens of proposals have been floated and numerous workshops held.  And as the delays have mounted, so has the frustration.   Feeling the heat, Port of Los Angeles officials now say they will look into stepping up the timeline to seek bids to redo Ports O' Call in San Pedro.  "Obviously, it's extremely important to me and the people I represent," Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn told harbor commissioners at their meeting Thursday after a waterfront presentation.

 The exchange exposed some of the tension that has long been festering between the port and the councilwoman.  Commissioner Joseph Radisich protested that Hahn was "trying to shift the blame to all of us."  "There are two sides or maybe more to every situation," he said. "There's a lot of politics going on here."  Later, Radisich reiterated the complaint: "There's a lot of politics involved in this."  "No politics," Hahn shot back.

And, of course, given the current state of the economy and the difficulty of financing major project, this is a potential further complication to any efforts to speed up the process.   (DB)

 * Ethics laws covering acceptance of free tickets:  Do they need to be revised?  Daily News analysis by Rick Orlov says that the answer is yes, according to Bob Stern, an attorney who helped write a number of state and city campaign finance laws and who has for many years been a political/ethics law expert at the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.  "If they are going to a Lakers game or a Dodgers game and they stay beyond the ceremonial function, they should have to report it."  A key factor, according to Stern, is his perspective that free tickets can represent attempts to influence public officials.  

The disgrace of issuing IOUs, as California did last summer, is only a far-off possibility this year.And although the governor has tried to ramp up pressure by ordering that state workers' pay be slashed, the controller, who prints the paychecks, has so far resisted that directive.

  "I just think it would be easier for them to report these things," Stern said. "I have no problem with the mayor throwing out the first pitch at a game and leaving and not have to report it. The fans might have a problem, but I don't.  "The reason is there is always a question of seeking a payback and the public should know about these things." 

  The debate centers in part around where the line is drawn between an official attending an event because of an official duty or as a perk for personal enjoyment.  And FPPC executive director Roman Porter said the state has grappled with this issue for years.  "Political reform is an evolving issue," Porter said. "The commission has a lot of history with this issue, in recognizing that we need to allow officials to perform these type of ceremonial functions."  Porter said he is reviewing past decisions on the issue to see if the commission needs to revive its policies on reporting.   "We already have a provision that allows officials to exceed the gift limit -- when an official is receiving flights and hotel rooms the city isn't paying for it." 

Orlov notes that at least one person who says he sees nothing wrong with the mayor's acceptance of the free tickets is Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine.  "I don't think he is really that big a sports fan either and I would bet he leaves most of theses events early", Zine said.  I would be he goes and is seen and then takes off.   And I think he should be there.  The mayor's job is to boost Los Angeles and if he wasn't at these events, people would raise questions."  (DN)

*And, speaking of the mayor and his free tickets, Downtown News editorial cartoonist Doug Davis has his take on the situation..... (DTN)

* Why no urgency to approve a state budget?  Not enough pain spread among enough people who would otherwise be hurting as a result of the lack of passage of a state budget...  Report out of Sacramento in today's Los Angeles Times tells us that "the lack of acute suffering" this year -- and the fact that at this point the state is not once again talking about issuing IOU's as it did last year -- is apparently a key factor as to why there are no signs of any movement towards a budget agreement... and no sense of pressure on the state's political leadership even towards working to come to a solution.

  Many of the pressures that can push California's leaders toward a budget accord are absent this summer as the state lurches into yet another budget year without a spending planThe lack of acute suffering from the budget stalemate may help explain why talks between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers show no signs of agreement on how to tackle California's $19.1-billion deficit.  Cash-strapped health clinics that are typically threatened with closure under such circumstances tend to lead a cascade of woeful headlines generated by Sacramento's inaction.  But this year, for the first time, they will be paid even without a state budget.

  "There's very little pressure," said Dick Ackerman of Irvine, a former Republican leader in the state Senate who negotiated several state budgets until he was forced out by term limits in 2008. "If … things really didn't get paid, I think you'd get a much quicker budget."  (LAT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Jul032010

News of the Day: Saturday, July 3

* LAX observers take note:  From the San Francisco Chronicle (Bloomberg wire), interesting report that India today unveiled a glittering new multibillion-dollar airport terminal in the nation's capital, a steel-and-glass structure intended to show that the country's infrastructure is finally catching up with its rapid economic growth.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dedicated the ultramodern, $3-billion terminal at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. Terminal 3 or T3 was built in just 37 months and will open for international passengers on July 14. Domestic passengers will shift to the new terminal on July 30.  Another similar modern terminal is planned for India's financial capital, Mumbai.

The new structure is spread over more than 120 acres (50 hectares) and with more than 160 check-in windows it can handle 34 million passengers a year, according to Delhi International Airport (P) LTD, the consortium that built and operates the airport terminal.  Delhi International Airport (P) LTD is a joint venture between Indian infrastructure company GMR group, Germany's Fraport, the government-run Airports Authority of India and Malaysian Airport Holdings.

And more to come, according to the country's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said in his speech today:  "It is estimated that India's aviation sector has the potential to absorb up to $120 billion of investment by the year 2020."  (SF Chronicle)  Also, Washington Post.

* State budget stalemate:  The rhetoric will get worse before the situation gets better.  Republicans and Democrats remain far apart. Democrats are committed to taxes in some form -- right now on oil production and delaying corporate tax benefits; Republicans are committed to opposing any new taxes.  But leaders from the two sides of the aisle have met privately to discuss their next steps and say they are interested in working out as much as possible in the Legislature, without the governor, according to their offices. And they want to reconvene the joint budget conference committee next week to stay true to their promise of conducting work in public.  (Sac Bee)

* California no longer "unchallenged" as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recess; Illinois has "now shouldered to the fore."  From today's New York Times, a report out of Chicago:

  Even by the standards of this deficit-ridden state, Illinois’s comptroller, Daniel W. Hynes, faces an ugly balance sheet. Precisely how ugly becomes clear when he beckons you into his office to examine his daily briefing memo.  He picks the papers off his desk and points to a figure in red: $5.01 billion.  “This is what the state owes right now to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university — and it’s getting worse every single day,” he says in his downtown office.  Mr. Hynes shakes his head. “This is not some esoteric budget issue; we are not paying bills for absolutely essential services,” he says. “That is obscene.”

  For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state’s bills and refuses to take the painful steps — cuts and tax increases — to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state’s budget.

  Then there is the spectacularly mismanaged pension system, which is at least 50 percent underfunded and, analysts warn, could push Illinois into insolvency if the economy fails to pick up.  States cannot go bankrupt, technically, but signs of fiscal crackup are easy to see. Legislators left the capital this month without deciding how to pay 26 percent of the state budget. The governor proposes to borrow $3.5 billion to cover a year’s worth of pension payments, a step that would cost about $1 billion in interest. And every major rating agency has downgraded the state; Illinois now pays millions of dollars more to insure its debt than any other state in the nation. 

  “Their pension is the most underfunded in the nation,” said Karen S. Krop, a senior director at Fitch Ratings.“ They have not made significant cuts or raised revenues. There’s no state out there like this. They can’t grow their way out of this.”  (NYT)

* Plume of contaminated water in San Fernando Valley:  Troy Anderson reports in today's Daily News that a plume of toxic chemicals under the San Fernando Valley has expanded so much in recent years that city officials have had to close dozens of water wells and may have to stop drawing local water altogether unless a massive $850 million cleanup effort is undertaken.  And, according to DWP's director of water quality, the plume of contaminated water has now grown to about 2 miles wide and 7-10 miles long, and the Department of Water and Power has been forced to close a growing number of wells.

In 2007, the DWP only had to shut down one well because of contamination of the city's only local water supply. Today, 50 to 55 are shut down at any given time in the North Hollywood and Rinaldi-Toluca well fields.  And, as a result of the closed wells, the annual amount of money DWP has had to spend to import water has increased from $7.3 million in 2007 to $174 million now.

 Anderson reports that the DWP is drafting plans to build an $850 million treatment complex to rid the water of the cancer-causing cleaning solvents, including Chromium 6, used by aerospace and related industries in the 1940s and '50s.  And that the agency hopes to fund the complex through a water bond that state officials are considering placing on the ballot.  (DN)

* El Pueblo (Olvera Street) eviction threat revoked:  Downtown News reports that  a step that could have led to evictions of tenants at Olvera Street was averted last week, thus clearing the way for mediation to begin between the city and the merchants, many of whom have withheld a portion of their rent since April 1, costing the city approximately $72,000 per month.

 Last month, a letter sent from City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office to Paul Hamilton, an attorney for the Olvera Street Merchants Association, warned that unless more than 40 tenants pay the cumulative $200,000-plus they owe in back rent by July 10, negotiations would not move forward. On Wednesday, Trutanich’s office said paying the back rent is no longer a condition for talks to start.  Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose 14th District includes El Pueblo, said Trutanich's office was following the advice of the mediator who will handle the negotiations.  "He felt the mediation shouldn't be conditional on anything, so that people are not being forced to the table, which I think is a good oint",Huizar said.

Huizar said negotiations are set to begin July 13 and should last about two days. A decision by the mediator should be complete by August, he said.  (DTN)

* Theme Building at LAX to officially reopen this week; model for "Jetson's":  Yes, 50 years after the "iconic" building was initially opened and three years after it was closed as a result of damage from a half-ton that fell from the upper portion of the eastern arch of the building and smashed onto the roof of the Encounter restaurant, the Theme Building will once again be open to the public.  The rooftop observation deck, which offers a 360-degree view of the entire airport, will be open free of charge on Saturdays and Sundays starting July 10.  (LAT)
Friday
Jul022010

Afternoon notes....

* Governor's race.  Tit-for-tat -- Whitman, Brown re "workplace" issues?  And a name from the past in California/Jerry Brown political circles:  Jacques Barzaghi. 

 With the recent commotion relating to the shoving of a former e-Bay employee by Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (which reportedly ended up with the woman receivng a $200,000 settlement), an old name from Jerry's Brown's political circle is now also drawing less-than-favorable attention in terms of Brown's own past workplace issues.  San Francisco Chronicle reports that ten years ago, as Oakland's mayor, Brown ignored women staffers' complaints of sexual harassment by his aide and close adviser, Jacques Barzaghi, said Nereyda Lopez, the city's former trade representative, who won a $50,000 settlement in 2001 after enduring what she said were Barzaghi's repeated and aggressive sexual come-ons.

 At the time, Lopez said, she told Brown of Barzaghi's behavior - which included knocking on her door in the middle of the night for sex and threatening her job when she wouldn't submit to his advances. A city investigation backed her complaints. Brown fired Barzaghi in 2004 after the aide's sixth wife called police to complain of domestic violence.  (SF Chronicle)




Friday
Jul022010

News of the Day: Friday, July 2

* What to look for in a new Planning Director?  Los Angeles Times editorial argues that, if the mayor  is serious about the "real planning" and "smart growth" approach to land use that he embraced when running for mayor, he must do more than appoint a successor to Goldberg who matches her planning credentials and vision. He must back his top planner with streamlined and unified planning, permitting, processing and review staffs. Villaraigosa has promised such a reorganization. It's now more crucial than ever that he follow through, because of budget decisions that have left too few other professionals in numerous city departments to get the job done under the current structure.

The mayor must also balance the current pressure for jobs and revenue against the city's continuing need for more than just permit processing. The update of community plans must continue even as the city tries to get more (and needed) revenue by expediting projects.  (LAT)

 * Uncollected city parking tickets and fines:   Audit by L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel for the fiscal year 2008-09 shows that only 53% of some $553 million in city billings was collected, thus resulting in an annual loss to the city of $260 million.   Perhaps nothing all that "new" here, except that the audit was done by a new city controller and that it comes at a time when the city is suffering what many have described as its worth fiscal crisis ever....   (DN) (LAT)

* More questions regarding viability of California High Speed Rail Authority's ridership (and, in turn, revenue) projections:  Sac Bee article regarding UC report, along with Dan Walters column tying into the report. 

 Basic issue seems to be that earlier questions and criticisms regarding ridership projections and financial viability drew the attention of Sen. Alan Lowenthal, chair of the Senate Transportation Cmte., who has said "he wants the project to be grounded in reality, not fantasy."  And that Lowenthal's committee thus asked the University of California's prestigious Institute of Transportation Studies to review the Cambridge Systematics data.  Now, the UC report,,which was delivered this week, appears to bolster the outside critics, saying that while Cambridge's work was professional as far as it went, its faulty assumptions had the effect of distorting projections of bullet-train ridership vis-à-vis other modes of north-south travel.

"We found that the model that the rail authority relied upon to create average ridership projections was flawed at key decision-making junctures," said Samer Madanat, the institute director.  "This means that the forecast of ridership is unlikely to be very close to the ridership that would actually materialize if the system were built," he said. "As such, it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system in California will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls."  Not surprisingly, perhaps, both Cambridge and the rail authority remain in defensive mode. Cambridge, in a letter to the UC researchers, said its work is "a professionally developed, state-of-the-practice model." The authority rejected the UC's warning about revenue shortfalls, saying "we could find no foundation" for the statement.

And why is all of this so important?  Because, Walters reflects, what is being discussed here is much more than an academic squabble between competing teams of analysts. Ridership demand is the foundation of the entire project. If the projection is unrealistic, the bullet train could become an expensive sinkhole.  (Sac Bee)

* Sacramento-based Latino media mogul forced to sell "empire" of 28 radio and TV stations.  From the Sacramento Bee: 

Amador Bustos, a farmworker's son and Mexico native, built a Sacramento-based media empire that reached Spanish-speaking listeners around the nation through 28 radio and TV stations. It all came crashing down this week.  Bustos paid the awful price for making acquisitions just before the recession. The subsequent economic storm swamped his company and his dreams.

  Bustos Media, LLC - operator of radio and TV stations in California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin -- on Wednesday filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to transfer its licenses to NAP Broadcast Holdings, composed of Bustos' three lenders. If the application is approved, Bustos Media LLC will cease to exist.  (Sac Bee)

* Washington's biggest lobbying firm just got bigger:  Washington Post reports today that Patton Boggs, Washington's biggest lobbying firm, just got a lot bigger by way of announcement this week by  that it has acquired the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, a smaller, family-style firm run by two of the Senate's most influential alumni. Under the acquisition, which the Post says has been int he works for several months, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Senator John Breaux (D-La.) will join Patton Boggs along with their sons and a half-dozen other staff members.

The union will further cement the firm run by Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. as Washington's most formidable lobbying force, with more than $40 million in lobbying revenue last year. Breaux-Lott, which was formed in January 2008, reported about $11 million in lobbying expenditures in 2009, disclosure records show.  (WP)

* White House elections.  No, not for President of the U.S., but for board member positions at the White House Correspondents Association, and the candidates are are building coalitions, navigating the front-row/back-row politics of the press corps, waging full-scale campaigns to win the votes of 220 voting members. They have talking points, surrogates and political enemies. They even have press coverage. 

And what are some of the issues involved?  Washington Post notes the campaign of Bloomberg reporter Hans Nichols, who says he is looking to address the injustice of White House correspondents' dinner seating arrangements, the need for "newsy" background meetings and early-morning gaggles, the disrespect shown toward the press by interminable delays. 

As for the Obama White House response to all of this, the WP notes that  the White House is thoroughly enjoying the role reversal.  "We're staying out of it," deputy press secretary Bill Burton said as he kicked up his feet and grinned in his office. "We think the voters should decide."  (WP)

* And another interesting media item, this time regarding Chinese media:  NYT reports that the Xinhua News Agency, China's dominant news service and the propaganda arm of the Communist Party, has introduced a 24-hour English-language news channel and that they are also preparing to open a prominent newsroom in Times Square, which is all part of an expensive push to increase the reach and influence of the Chinese news media overseas.

The paper reports that the president of Xinhua, Li Congjun, said Thursday at a press conference in Beijing that CNC World, the agency’s new 24-hour news channel, was part of a government effort to “present an international vision with a Chinese perspective.”  Also, on Thursday, an official with Xinhua, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, said Xinhua was planning to build a newsroom at the top of a 44-story skyscraper in Times Square, giving it an address in the same neighborhood as Reuters, Conde Nast, News Corp and The New York Times.  (NYT)

 * News for Dodgers fans:  As part of a major shake-up within the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization, Dodgers' 1988 World Series hero Kirk Gibson has been named D'Backs interim manager.  This is part of the D'Backs' top-of-the-ladder reorganization effort that includes the firing of both A.J. Hinch, the team's manager, as well as general manager Josh Byrnes.  Hinch is the fourth manager to lose his job this season.  The firings are being driven by the fact that the D'Backs team appears to be locked into last place in the NL West for the second year in a row.  

And what team will Gibson be facing in his first game as manager?  The Dodgers, of course, as they arrive tonight to begin a weekend series against the D'Backs.  (WP)

* Reorganization of DWP to separate water and power operations into two distinct new departments?  That is the recommendation of Mark Gold, presdent of Heal the Bay, by way of interesting op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times.  Gold argues that proceeding in this fashion would better ensure residents of Los Angeles an ongoing supply of water for the city's ever-growing population and that, in light of DWP's less-than-stellar overall management in the area of sustainable resources, such a split would also provide a better means of coordination between DWP and the Department of Public Works to address issues relating to both water conservation as well as to sustainable water management.  (LAT)

* Monica Garcia re-elected president of LAUSD board.  Daily News reports that Marguerite LaMotte questioned/criticzed Garcia as being too close to the mayor: 

  LaMotte cautioned Garcia about aligning herself too closely with Villaraigosa."I hope you can discern what is the mayor's responsibility and what is the school board's," La Motte said. "It's almost like having an eighth board member."  (DN)

Thursday
Jul012010

Afternoon notes....

No additional runways at Heathrow?  Yes, bucking a global trend wherein cities across North America, Asia and Europe are building new runways and terminals to handle projected growth in air travel and air freight in order to remain competitive in the aviation marketplace, one of the first actions taken by Britain's new Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, has been to cancel long-standing plans for a third runway at Heathrow.  Cameron said his government would also refuse to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, London's second-tier airports.   A key reason given for this action by the new Cameron government is that enabling more flying was simply incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions.  Interesting commentary about all of this in today's New York Times....  (NYT)

* And speaking of airports, news out of LAX today is that the union representing about 130 janitors at Los Angeles International Airport announced that they have reached agreement on a labor contract, thus averting the threat of a strike during the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend.   According to a union spokesman, the janitors, who work for contractors hired by United Airlines and American Airlines along with a consortium of international air carriers in Terminal 2, won a contract late Wednesday that maintains their current hourly wages of $10 to $11 and health benefits.  Actual details of the proposed contract were not immediately disclosed, pending final approval by union members.

* A new fiscal year begins today for most states, and most are hurting for money.  Washington Post reports that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states are looking at a combined deficit of $89 billion.  But Congress is in no mood to spend it.  And, with every state except Vermont facing a legal requirement to have a balanced budget, this means that the only recourse is cutting employees or vital programs, including education spending, medical services, programs for the disabled and elderly, and police and fire protection.  All that cutting could mean the loss of 900,000 jobs -- in the public sector and in private companies that rely on state business, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  And, although President Obama has called for $50 billion in aid for states, concern about the federal deficit has made lawmakers wary about significant new spending.

How does the public feel about this?  As has frequently been noted from various polls, the sentiment seems largely to be "cut the budget, and don't look to Washington for a bailout...but don't cut my services", which appears to be once again evidenced by a recent Pew Research Center survey which found that most Americans think that states should solve their budget crises without federal help. Paradoxically, however, most respondents also said they oppose reductions that would have to be made for states to balance their budgets."

 Latest on the Phil Jackson front is that, a week after saying he was seriously looking at retiring, the longest-tenured coach in Lakers history announced today that, following favorable news he has received relating to an intensive battery of recent medical tests, he will indeed be back for his 11th season as coach of the Lakers (his 19th as an NBA coach)...and that this will in fact be his "last stand":

 "Count me in," the 65-year-old coach said today. "After a couple of weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It'll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one."  (LAT)

 * LA Weekly is apparently not letting up on its coverage/commentary/criticism regarding the mayor's acceptance of free tickets for 80+ sporting and entertainment or cultural events.  Latest piece, once again Jill Stewart and Tibby Rothman, takes Antonio to task for what the paper calls:  "Villaraigosa's Vanishing Veracity." 

Interesting reading --  picking up the paper's ongoing perspective -- as to background and details, including the email advice from AEG lobbyist Chris Modrzejewski reported recently by David Zahniser in the Los Angeles Times:  "For the mayor to accept [game] tickets he must have an 'official' role," the lobbyist said in an e-mail. He suggested that Villaraigosa create "a certificate to the Lakers organization for their work in the community." 

Also, some interesting quotes from Bill Carrick, a consultant who had worked on both of former Mayor Jim Hahn's mayoral campaigns -- the first, successful one and then the second, unsuccessful one -- and also from former Mayor Richard Riordan, as well:  

  "Riordan says he thinks the embarrassment and shame have been punishment enough' for the mayor but then tells the Weekly he would like to see Villaraigosa 'stop making these stupid statements that he was there on business.  You don't want to do things in the aftermath that are actually more evil than what you did," Riordan says. 'C'mon, Antonio, we are not that naive. Official business? So, my feeling is, this guy has suffered enough. But quit making these statements that this was about business. And please, please get on with fixing the city.'"  (LA Weekly)

 * Update on high-speed rail -- one station in the San Fernando Valley:  Four alternatives are to be considered for the San Fernando Valley when the California High Speed Rail Authority board meets next week, including a possible stop near Bob Hope Airport.  Original plan had been for staff at the CHSRA to recommend two Valley stations to their board of directors as part of the 800-mile system. But after hearing public concerns about parking, traffic and connectivity, they elected to whittle it down to just one station in the valley."  (Glendale News Press/LAT)