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Wednesday
Jul072010

Afternoon notes...

* Where will LeBron James  be playing next year?  Apparently, according to item in the Washington Post, we will all know the answer tomorrow night:

  LeBron James's dramatic and historic free agency will have a fitting conclusion - on TV.  

  ESPN reported Tuesday night that James will announce his future NBA plans during a one-hour special on its network at 9 p.m. Thursday. ESPN's Chris Broussard said James' "representatives" contacted the network and asked for the unusual arrangement just a day after James opened up his own twitter account.  It is not known which team James will join or where the announcement will take place.  (WP)

* Travel ban to Cuba to be lifted?  Maybe....  From today's Washington Post:

  Mojitos at Varadero Beach . . . fishing in the waters Hemingway immortalized . . . dinner and a show at the Tropicana: A long list of currently forbidden pleasures will become legal for Americans under pending legislation that would lift central provisions of the United States' half-century embargo of Cuba.  The bill is being pushed by business and agriculture groups that have long argued that the Cold War-era sanctions against Cuba should be lifted, but it is opposed by an influential anti-communist lobby, which is against Cuba's ruling Castro family.

  ***

  The sanctions have been in place since 1959, when communist leader Fidel Castro took over the country and nationalized the holdings of U.S. investors, and they became entrenched in U.S. foreign policy three years later, when Castro tried to import Soviet nuclear weapons.   A bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee last week would repeal a broad travel ban on Americans visiting the island -- leaving the broader sanctions in place but taking a major step toward weakening them. It also would loosen rules that allow food sales to the country.  Such efforts have come before, and there is no guarantee of success this time. The bill narrowly passed the Agriculture Committee, 25 to 20, and must clear the House Financial Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee before a floor vote is possible.  (WP)

* Business coalition mobilizes to fight Prop. 24, a labor-sponsored initiative that recently qualified for the November ballot..   If approved by voters, the initiative would would repeal three business tax breaks that the Legislature passed during budget negotiations in late 2008 and early 2009, just as the economy plunged into a deep recession.  The tax breaks, all scheduled to kick in in 2011, are intended to save California businesses an estimated $1.7 billion a year.  State tax regulators estimate that about 120,000 businesses statewide could lose these breaks if the initiative passes.  LABJ reports:

  Nearly every major statewide business organization and dozens of local chambers of commerce have joined a coalition called Stop the Jobs Tax Initiative.  Among the more prominent local companies are Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. and Amgen Inc. of Thousand Oaks.   But smaller companies also see big stakes in the issue. At Gardena furniture manufacturer Cambridge of California, for example, owner Ben Nielsen said he might shut down if he loses the tax breaks that were passed by the Legislature over the past two years.

  ***

The coalition already has begun raising the tens of millions of dollars needed to run an opposition campaign. The members also are mounting a lobbying effort to prevent passage of bills delaying the tax breaks.  But raising the money may be a daunting task. Business pocketbooks have been drained by the recession, and there are several other propositions on the November ballot deemed crucial to businesses. Those include a measure postponing the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law and another initiative requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise fees on business.

“This will be one of the most expensive elections for business ever,” said Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.  But Toebben said the tax breaks initiative may get special attention nevertheless.  “Businesses are very angry with this initiative and the way it’s been described by its proponents as ‘closing tax loopholes,’ ” he said. “They’re angry enough that I guarantee you they will open their wallets to defeat this.”  (LABJ)

* So. California Gas Co. is staying put in its "signature" downtown tower where it has been the anchor tenant since 1991, terms of lease agreement not disclosed; more than 1,300 Gas Co. employees are based at this location ....  From the Los Angeles Times:

  Suspense over whether the Gas Co. Tower in downtown Los Angeles will remain the headquarters of Southern California Gas Co. is over -- the big utility is staying put in its signature tower for the next 15 years.  Real estate industry analysts were watching to see whether the gas company might bail out on embattled landlord MPG Office Trust Inc., formerly Maguire Properties Inc., and move its offices elsewhere.   (LAT)

 

Wednesday
Jul072010

Wednesday, July 7

* A "subpoena" to Austin Beutner to appear before the L.A. City Council, questions as to "criminal activity" by DWP???  

Yes, there were some very angry council members yesterday as a result of DWP's no-show at a joint meeting of the Energy and Environment Cmte. and the Audits and Governmental Efficiency Cmte., with the displeasure being particularly heightened by the fact that the specific purpose of the meeting was to discuss the recent controller's audit that questioned the DWP's actions regarding its request for a power rate hike and raised concerns that the DWP had deliberately misled the public:

  Simmering tension between the City Council and the DWP erupted Tuesday after utility officials skipped a hearing scheduled to discuss an audit that accused the agency of lying in order to push through a rate hike.

  An angry Councilman Paul Koretz threatened to use the council's subpoena power to compel Austin Beutner, a deputy mayor and the DWP's interim general manager, to appear before the full City Council within the next two weeks.  "I've been watching the city for over 40 years and I don't remember anything like this," said Koretz, who chairs the council's Audits Committee. "We asked them to be here before and they refused.  "They have 10,000 employees. They could have someone here."

  Councilmen Bernard Parks and Greig Smith, each of whom has worked for the city for more than 35 years, said they could not recall a department refusing to appear before a committee.  "It just hasn't happened," Smith said.  (DN)

 * First meeting of new San Fernando Valley Council of Governments to take place tomorrow.  Group will be composed of a 13-member board:  seven members of the Los Angeles City Council and two members of the Los Angeles County Bd. of Supervisors, whose districts include parts of the SF Valley; plus one member each from Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando and Santa Clarita:

  An offshoot of the failed San Fernando Valley secession campaign nearly a decade ago, the SFVCOG came into being with a May vote of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando and Santa Clarita had previously approved the partnership.   Organizers say although it will have no formal authority, the union of local leaders will boost the political power for the area's 2 million residents. SFVCOG is expected to focus on regional planning, economic development and transportation issues.  (DN)

* Non-stop flights from LAX to Reagan National Airport?  Yes, if several Western lawmakers are successful with proposed legislation.  But not if the local folks in Virginia have anything to say about this.  From today's Washington Post:

  The legislation to expand the number of long-distance flights allowed to and from Reagan resurrects a campaign by western lawmakers and the airline industry that has infuriated residents of Arlington and Fairfax counties and Alexandria, many of whom oppose longer flights because they might require larger, heavier planes that make more noise.  Under the proposal -- the so-called perimeter rule rule, which bans most flights to destinations more than 1,250 miles from Reagan National -- would be eased considerably. For the first time, regular nonstop air travel would expand from Reagan to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and other distant cities.  (WP)

* More questions, concerns regarding California's high-speed rail projectPeninsula cities are not giving up on their efforts to delay/suspend planning of the project until CHSRA addresses the various economic and environmental concerns the group has raised.....  (Sac Bee)

* Queen Elizabeth in New York, addresses the United Nations for the first time since 1957 shortly after she assumed the throne.  At that time, the Washington Post notes, she was welcomed by a ticker-tape parade.  This time, however, WP reports, there was hardly a well-wisher to be found outside U.N. headquarters.  And that this low-key welcome was not by accident, but, rather, largely by design, reflective of the rest of the queen's somber New York agenda: a visit to Ground Zero, and to a memorial garden honoring the 67 British victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.  But the quiet reception also pointed to a monarchy whose popular appeal has perhaps crested.  "I suppose the British monarchy was a bigger deal in 1957 than now," said Sir Brian Urquhart, a former high-ranking U.N. official from Britain who met the queen during her visit five decades ago.   

  Inside the United Nations, there was plenty of pomp Tuesday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others warmly welcomed the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as they entered the U.N. compound.  "In a changing and churning world, you are an anchor for our age," Ban said of the queen in his remarks before the General Assembly. "Your reign spans the decades. From the challenges of the Cold War to the threat of global warming. From the Beatles to Beckham."  (WP)

Tuesday
Jul062010

Afternoon notes....

* L.A. City Council has its own plan for lawn-watering rules:  three days a week, for eight minutes, instead of  two days a week, for 15 minute, with the days to be assigned based on odd- or even- numbered addresses.  In making this recommendation, the council rejected a plan approved by the dWP board to allow watering two days a week on the basis of odd-/even-numbered addresses.  Next step is that the DWP is expected to take up the new proposal later this month, and the council's supporters of the plan voiced hopes that it could be in place when rising temperatures and reduced humidity arrive in August and September.  (LAT)

 * No more really big $$$ for Democratic campaign committees?  Or, at least not the level of megabucks they had gotten used to going back several years....  Piece in today's Washington Post begins as follows:

  A revolt among big donors on Wall Street is hurting fundraising for the Democrats' two congressional campaign committees, with contributions from the world's financial capital down 65 percent from two years ago.  The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. The Senate expects to take up the measure this month.

  This fundraising freefall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections.  Although the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have seen just a 16 percent drop in overall donations compared with this stage of the 2008 campaign, party leaders are concerned about the loss of big-dollar donors. The two congressional committees have raised $49.5 million this election cycle from people giving $1,000 or more at a time, compared with $81.3 million at this point in the last election.

And is this a GOP opportunity?  Republicans, aware of Wall Street's unease with their former Democratic allies, have tried to reap the benefits, to mixed results. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, made a much-touted trip to New York in April, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) lunched with [Jamie Dimon, head of J.P. Morgan Chase, who is known for his close relationship to Obama] in late January.  The two Republican committees that are focused on congressional races have received $2.7 million from the New York area, slightly more than at this point in 2008 but less than the $4 million they raised at this point in the 2004 cycle when the party still controlled Congress.  (WP)

* Traveling to Paris?  want to rent a private apartment?  Or do you own an apartment that you rent out to tourists?  If so, New York Times report out of Paris advises to beware

  Many people buy a pied-à-terre in Paris to use for a few weeks a year and to rent the rest of the time. Most of them don’t realize, however, that they are breaking the law — something city hall now is trying to address with a new, more direct approach to enforcement.  Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, expressing concern about the lack of affordable housing in the city center, ordered an agency last year to warn property owners that renting out residential apartments for less than a year at a time violates French law. Those who ignored the warning, he said, would be prosecuted.

And is the rental industry in Paris concerned?  Indeed.  Although only 25 enforcement letters have been sent since the crackdown began last fall, NYT notes that the rental industry in this most-visited city is concerned and, as more owners slowly become aware of the issue, confusion is growing. A few have pulled their properties off the market, others have deleted addresses or other identifying details from Internet listings. And dozens of rental agencies have banded together to try to save their lucrative business......

  There is no precise tally of how many of the 1.3 million residences in Paris are being used for short-term rentals. Industry professionals estimate there may be tens of thousands, with a significant proportion owned by foreigners who bought them as vacation homes or investment properties. (Those buyers are predominantly Americans, Italians and Britons, according to brokers.)  Industry types also believe the numbers have risen sharply in the past 10 years as the Internet has made it easier to find potential renters. 

  To legally offer short-term rentals, owners would need to have their residential properties reclassified as commercial sites, a complicated process that involves finding a commercial property in the same neighborhood that can be transformed into residential use.  “It isn’t difficult, it is impossible,” said Fabrice Luzu, a notary who has helped many international clients invest in city real estate....  (NYT)

Tuesday
Jul062010

News of the Day: Tuesday, July 6

* New L.A. city watering plan to be taken up today by the Los Angeles City Council -- Under the proposed new plan -- which was recommended by a panel of experts and which is supported by the DWP -- residents who live at odd-numbered addresses will be allowed to water on Mondays and Thursdays and those at even-numbered addresses would water on Tuesdays and Fridays.  (DN)

 * Alarcon staffers ordered to appear before grand jury -  David Zahniser reports in the LAT that Councilman Richard Alarcon confirmed yesterday that six members of his staff have been ordered to appear before a county grand jury this week in connectin with the District Attorney's investigation into allegations questioning whether Alarcon actually resides within Council District 7.  The six include:  Chief of Staff Saeed Ali, press deputy Becca Doten, legislative deupty Ackley Padilla, office manager Lidia Soto; executive assistant Nancy Hodges and district director John de la Rosa.   (LAT)

* DWP scales back its Owens Lake solar test.  Local residents, community leaders are disappointed.... again -- Change in DWP management, engineering/environmental concerns, thus L.A. Times reports that:

    The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's ambitious plan to put solar panels on 80 square miles of dry lake bed and flatlands east of the Sierra Nevada range has run into a daunting problem: extremely caustic mud in an area where it hoped to build an 80-acre pilot project.  Preliminary engineering tests show that if solar panel platforms were placed at the southern end of the nearly dry 110-square-mile Owens Lake, they would sink as much as several inches into extremely corrosive soil.  
Preliminary engineering tests show that if solar panel platforms were placed at the southern end  

And, as for how the locals feel about this:

   The controversy over the proposed solar park brings to the fore the "historic acrimony that has simmered" between local Owens Valley residents and the DWP for more than a century, going back to the early 1900's, when the city had its agents pose as farmers and ranchers in order to buy land and water rights in the Valley....for the purpose of building a massive aqueduct to bring water to the growing Los Angeles metropolis.  (LAT)

* "Bankruptcy is not a haven for wrongdoers" - Sacramento Bee reports that California officials have asked a bankruptcy judge for permission to pursue their lawsuit against Alfred Villalobos, the former CalPERS board member they've accused of bribing top pension fund officials.  "Bankruptcy is not a haven for wrongdoers," lawyers for Attorney General Jerry Brown said in papers filed last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Reno.  Villalobos  filed for bankruptcy protection in June, a month after Brown's office sued him and former CalPERS Chief Executive Fred Buenrostro. Normally, filing in bankruptcy court would automatically shield a debtor from being sued.  But Brown's lawyers argue that the bankruptcy shield doesn't apply to "police and regulatory actions," including the suit they've filed against Villalobos. (Sac Bee)

* Darrell Steinberg.  Is he too pragmatic for Democratic stalwarts/labor leaders?  Is he "in trouble" as Senate President Pro Tem? -- Seems that the "issues" confronting Steinberg -- within his own party -- are not going away.  Pressure continues from the left -- from some of his strongest liberal allies -- to "goad" him to get tougher with the governor and with legislative Republicans over how to address the state's current $19.1-billion budget deficit.  (Sac Bee)

 * Migrant labor problems.  In Israel.....  Yes, NYT reports that Israel is going through the throes of a migrant labor problem, particularly in terms of what the paper reports to be apparent abuses of thousands of Chinese construction workers, Filipino home health care aides and Thai farmhands, as well as other Asians, and also Africans and Eastern Europeans, working as maids, cooks and nannies. From the New York Times: 

  “Israelis won’t do this work, so they bring us,” said Wang Yingzhong, 40, a construction worker from Jiangsu Province in China who arrived in 2006.   But even as foreign workers have become a mainstay of the economy, their presence has increasingly clashed with Israel’s Zionist ideology, causing growing political unease over the future of the Jewish state and their place in it.

  The government has lurched through a series of contradictory policies that encourage the temporary employment of migrants while seeking to impose tight visa and labor restrictions that can leave them vulnerable to abusive employers, advocates for the workers say.  Those who overstay their visas and try to remain in Israel live in fear of the Oz Unit, a recently created division of immigartion police officers who hunt down illegal migrants and assist in their deportation.  (NYT)

* Red, White and Kosher -- Interesting op-ed in the New York Times about that All-American food, the hot dog...and how a 1972 TV commercial for the kosher hot dog has given rise to what the piece describes as the fastest-growing segment of the domestic food industry:  that today, a majority of Americans believe that kosher food is safer, healthier, better in general than non-kosher food. And they’re willing to pay more for it.  (NYT)

* Etiquette classes in India now a multimillion-dollar industry:   Yes, today's Washington Post reports that one offshoot of the growing economy in India is a fast-growing trend in the country's corporate world to remedy what analysts and recruiters call a serious impediment to India's global economic goals through etiquette classes and training. Although many skilled Indian workers have degrees from top universities, analysts said they are often jaw-droppingly inept at the basics of international workplace etiquette: dressing properly, hosting a meeting, making inoffensive small talk and even using cutlery.  (WP)

Monday
Jul052010

News of the Day: Monday, July 5

* Pension reform, interesting politics in San Francisco:  As has previously been reported, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi has been the leading force behind an effort to place a measure on the city's November ballot that would require city workers to contribute to their health and pension plans.  Matier & Ross report in their column today that Adachi himself went out over the weekend to gather signatures, to add a 15,000-cushion to the 55,000 signatures supporters have collected so far.  If the measure qualifies for the ballot with the necessary 46,000 signatures, it would ask voters to require that all city workers contribute 9 to 10 percent of their salary towards their pensions, and it would also have city workers contribute 50 percent of the cost of their dependents' health care coverage, up fromt he current 25 percent.  M & R report that, perhaps not surprisingly, "the move has made the public defender a pariah with the city's labor establishment, in part because unlike other 'reform measures,' Adachi didn't seek either the unions' or City Hall's input before taking it to the streets."

Also, from M & R, attorney general candidate Kamala Harris has picked up the endorsement of the California Professional Firefighters, which is expected to give Harris their official blessing this week.  As for why the group is going with Harris over Cooley, perhaps it is because of Harris' pitch about protecting firefighters' jobs and pensions?  Is this a big deal?  M& R note that, "as endorsements go, firefighters are at the top of the list in the public's mind - and the firefighters know it. They even have their own TV studio where they produce ads for candidates and causes."

And for those who have been following the saga regarding moving the San Francisco 49'er to Santa Clara, some interesting $$$regarding lawyers' and consultants' fees:  "The 49ers' proposed Santa Clara stadium may or may not make it across the goal line - but the legal and consulting bills continue to mount.  The Santa Clara City Council approved on Tuesday paying its team of legal and financial advisers on the stadium deal an additional $750,000 combined next year.  That would bring law firm Goldfarb and Lipman LLC's tab for working on the stadium to $1.8 million, and financial adviser Keyster Marston Associates' to $1.6 million."  (SF Chronicle)

 

* Doings at L.A. City Hall, from Rick Orlov:  First, on the subject of whether the mayor and city officials had a right o order furloughs of city employees, Orlov reports that the city's right to order the furloughs was upheld last week when a  hearing officer to the Employee Relations Board said the mayor and city management acted properly in how it ordered furloughs of the EAA members after months of negotiations.  "The decision to implement a mandatory furlough plan and the effects of those decisions are within the scope of representation," Hearing Officer David Stiteler ruled after months of hearings.  The recommendation, which goes to the full Employee Relations Board for consideration, is a major step for the city as it heads into a new fiscal year with even more furloughs being planned.

  The city already has ordered the layoff of 232 workers as the fiscal year began last week and is looking at the potential of laying off another 1,000 workers.    Equally as important, however, is the ability to furlough workers between 16 and 26 days, depending on their category to balance the $6.07 billion budget with its nearly $500 million shortfall.    

Orlov also notes that former Mayor Richard Riordan has taken it on himself to begin negotiating with city unions to try to win concessions that neither Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa nor the City Council seem able to achieve.   Acting as an unofficial ambassador, Riordan has been meeting with a number of city unions to talk about what he sees as the main problems facing the city:  pension reform and health costs.   "What I'm trying to do is get them to look at the problem and talk more about it," Riordan said. "What I want is to try to get them to begin looking at the city's problems realistically."

And, on another City Hall topic, Orlov reports that L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich says he hasn't given up on his push for legislation to be able to impanel his own grand jury"We are going to pursue the bill until we get this victims protection measure through the Legislature," said Bill Carter, chief deputy to Trutanich.  While some city officials, notably Councilwoman Jan Perry, object to the proposal as an effort to get around the City Charter, Carter said he hopes to explain why the measure is needed.   (DN)

 *  What's next for the state water bond now that it apparently will NOT be on the November ballot?  Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters offers his perspective on this:

  It appears certain that the $11.1 billion water bond, the centerpiece of a historic water policy agreement championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be removed from the November ballot.  Concerned that the bond measure would be rejected by angry, recession-battered voters, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's water policy leaders agreed last week that it should be postponed at least until the 2012 election – much as an earlier high-speed rail bond issue was postponed until it could win passage.

  It is, however, not quite that simple. The effect of postponement would be to take Schwarzenegger out of the equation since his stint as governor will end in six months. And the water deal's critics are already demanding that postponement should include a rewrite, which could mean prolonged wrangling or utter collapse.  As written now, the bond measure is a typical product of legislative deal-making, which means it forgoes logic and equity in favor of political expediency.

****

  It is another test – not unlike the budget, in fact – of Capitol politicians' ability to deal with serious issues without resorting to trickery and payoffs. Would it be possible for Schwarzenegger or his successor, plus the Legislature, to write a water measure that addresses the state's very real water problems but also does so equitably and logically?  The answer, unfortunately, may be no. One reason is that California's decades-long water debate is not really over water but over controlling land use, pitting development advocates against those who want to stop, slow or change development patterns.  That's why there's been a deep split among environmental groups over the current deal, between those truly interested in the water supply and the environmental health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and those who see land-use policy as the chief issue.

And, what may happen next in terms of resolving the issue?  Walters concludes:

  This may be another of those made-in-California political knots that cannot be untangled because the political structure demands a level of trust and accord that the issue itself, by its nature, renders impossible.   (Sac Bee)

* Air Traffic Controllers.  Is there a safety issue here?  Well, if there isn't one in L.A., it appears there may indeed be one in the skies around D.C.  Scary piece in today's Washington Post details the rise in near-collisions in the Washington D.C. airspace as a result of the retirement of senior controllers and the hiring of an influx of inexperienced controllers.  And how is this a local issue here in L.A.?  Because it has come up frequently in commentaries by Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl with regard to improving safety at LAX.  (WP)

* Is there racism in Mexico?  And, if so, how is this manifested?  With national and also likely international media looking at elections in Mexico and the circumstances surrounding the intimidation, violence, executions relating to low voter turnout, Los Angeles Times' reporter Tracy Wilkinson looks at another aspect of life in Mexico.  Racism...

  Racism in Mexico rears its ugly head - Actors in blackface makeup are used during coverage of the World Cup. The broadcasting company says it's just a harmless spoof, but commentators say Mexico as a whole is in denial about racism.

  Every morning during television coverage of the World Cup, on the Mexican equivalent of the "Today" show, co-hosts chat, trade barbs and yuck it up. Behind them, actors in blackface makeup, dressed in fake animal skins and wild "Afro" wigs, gyrate, wave spears and pretend to represent a cartoonish version of South Africa.

  Yes, in the 21st century, blackface characters on a major television network.  But this is Mexico, and definitions of racism are complicated and influenced by the country's own tortured relationship with invading powers and indigenous cultures."

  ****

  The people at Televisa, Mexico's preeminent broadcasting company, say they mean absolutely no harm with the blackface characters on their morning chat show. It's just a spoof, they say, a humorous segment when the news is over but the day's World Cup match hasn't yet started, and shouldn't be taken seriously. After all, one of the co-hosts is a green-haired clown. More "Saturday Night Live" than "Good Morning America."  The ratings, by the way, are through the roof, Televisa adds. 

  For Friday's game between Holland and Brazil, viewers in Mexico, minutes after the morning dose of blackface, saw the two teams read a pledge against discrimination and parade with a huge banner that said: "No to racism."  (LAT)