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News of the Day: Wednesday, June 23

* L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley opens "inquiry" into Villaraigosa's free tickets.... L.A. Times reports that David Demerjian, head of the D.A.'s Public Integrity Division, says their office "has begun looking into Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's practice of accepting thousands of dollars in free tickets, and the mayor found himself again being pressed by reporters at events meant to draw attention to other issues." 

Demerjian says he has contacted the City Ethics Commission — which is also conducting a separate investigation regarding the tickets — after receiving a complaint that mentioned L.A. Times articles articles about the free tickets and reports by KTTV-TV Channel 11.  "As part of the inquiry, Demerjian said, prosecutors will try to determine whether Villaraigosa should have disclosed to the commission that he received the tickets."  (LAT)

* DWP rate increase decision, "made top down and not bottom up"....  Councilwoman Jan Perry, chair of  the council's Energy & Environment Cmte. and who has been actively involved in issues relating to DWP rate increases, says she is planning a series of hearings to review issues raised by an audit released earlier this month by L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel which found the DWP had not been truthful to the council regarding withholding of $73.5 million from the city's general fund. 

Perry, along with other council members, have previously said that they and other city officials expect to spend the summer trying to find out who were the key decision-makers in the rate-hike drama and studying ways to gain more control over the agency.   Daily News reports that, at a meeting of her committee yesterday, Perry said:  "'There is a decision reporting tree over there and I want to know who made the decision on this'"; "'I think this was a decision that was made top down and not bottom up.'"  (DN)

* And some political "stuff" from the Bay Area: "dysfunctional politics" in Oakland; school parcel tax lagging in Alameda.....  San Francisco Chronicle continues with its coverage regarding the leadership (or lack thereof, in the eyes of some at the Chronicle?) of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, particularly and most recently in terms of where he has been and/or what he has contributed to putting forward a city budget for the year beginning July 1.  Some fairly harsh stuff here and here.... 

Also, school parcel tax lagging in Alameda:  With yes votes of 65.3 percent, short of the two-thirds required.  Measure E would give Alameda some of the highest school taxes in the Bay Area (with several hundred ballots remaining uncounted as of press time...)  If the measure passes, homeowners would pay $659 a year, and business owners would owe up to $9,500 annually per parcel.  If the measure
fails, the school board said it will close half the schools.  If the measure passes, small business owners say they'll have little hope of surviving as the recession wears on.  (SF Chron)

* Local-funds measure qualifies for November ballot; also measure to suspend implementation of AB 32....  Sacramento Bee reports that a measure to "ban the state from dipping into local government coffers to balance the [state] budget" has qualified for the November ballot.  And that those seeking to delay implementation AB 32 have also been successful in gaining enough signatures to put their measure on the ballot as well....

* Editorial:  Capping of state employee vacation payouts..... Following up on its report that state employees have piled up a collective $2.75 billion (75.5 million hours) of vacation time, Sacramento Bee editorial argues that this is money that cash-strapped/deficit-burdened California doesn't have, and that, with California having the most generous leave policy of any state in the country (and one where even this generous leave cap is often ignored), the situation is one that needs to be addressed and corrected, particularly that the admnistration needs to ensure that employees burn down those hours before retirement and that "California urgently needs to adopt 'use it or lose it' rules for its workers just like other states."

Also, the kind of waste and abuse reported by the Bee "cannot be laid at the feet of the state's powerful public employee unions.  This is a management failure of enormous proportions. The biggest collectors of vacation cashouts, by far, are managers. They are responsible for keeping track of and requiring subordinates to take vacation they are owed, and thus reducing the state's liability. Historically, that has not been done."  (SB)



News of the Day: Tuesday, June 22

* Affordable housing issues in Santa Monica; developer "slips out" on agreement with the city.....  Santa Monica Daily Press reports on an interesting situation in Santa Monica involving developer JSM Construction.  Seems that JSM, which built much of downtown Santa Monica's housing supply, has now failed to construct 52 affordable housing units that it was required to build under an agreement with the city.  Now folks are asking whether the rules governing such arrangements (in-lieu fees) need to be changed, also what are the financial remedies available to the city to enforce the agreement, etc....

* "A budget, a budget, who's got a budget?"  Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters discusses the "three-way stalemate" regarding the state budget:  That "the governor has a budget that fellow Republicans more or less support.  Assembly Democrats have a budget whose centerpiece is a complex scheme to borrow billions of dollars.  And Democratic senators have a budget that's based on raising taxes and shifting some programs from the state to counties."  So, now what does everyone do to even try to bridge the gap???  (Sac Bee)

 * "Devils brew of sins"....And, speaking about the state budget, LAT columnist George Skelton says "state employees are not the budget culprits"; also, that, until the state deals with the real causes of the fiscal fiasco in Sacramento, we should all "prepare for more misery."  Skelton argues that "one persistent myth about the perpetually bleeding state budget is that it's all the fault of public employee unions."  And, while the unions are to blame for some things, they are actually not the root cause of the current $19-billion budget deficit.   Rather, "California's budget nightmare stems from "a devil's brew" of various sins...."  (LAT)

* High-speed rail legislation; scrutiny of rail contractor's Nazi-era ties....  Sacramento Bee reports that local San Fernando Valley Assemblyman Bob Blumenfeld wants to give officials something new to think about when awarding massive contracts for the state's high speed rail system - whether the bidder transported Nazi victims to death camps during World War II."  Blumenfeld's legislation would give the  high speed rail authority "the legal right to disqualify a French firm or other railway companies from construction contracts for their role in wartime atrocities committed more than six decades ago."   He says the legislation will help persuade a French company to disclose the extent of its involvement in Nazi death-camp transportation and to pay reparations or make other amends.  (Sac Bee)




News of the Day: Monday, June 21

The Summer Solstice arrives today.  First day of summer, longest day(light) of the year......

*  Ban on project labor agreements in public sector contracts; non-union contractors looking to place this on ballot in 2012......    LABJ reports that, after their recent success at the polls in San Diego County in gaining voter approval of bans on new project labor agreements that give unions an advantage in bidding on public sector contracts, "non-union contractors are now targeting Los Angeles and Long Beach" to seek similar bans.  And that, if the signature-gathering is successful, it is possible that this may end up on local ballots sometime in 2012.  Which would then likely mean a $$$major political battle.....   (LABJ)

*  Brand new LAPD $74-million, state-of-the-art jail remains empty.....  When the LAPD began construction on its new jail four years ago, plans were for a state-of-the-art facility to address many of the failures and issues related to the almost 60-year-old existing facility.  Now the new jail is ready, with all kinds of gadgets, devices and technology to make it about as good as one might ever expect and, with five floors and spanning 172,000-square feet, one of the largest of its kind.  And the old one is decrepit and in miserable shape.  But because LAPD does not have adequate funds to pay for hiring enough jailers to run the new "labor-intensive facility", the new jail remains empty.  Much to the frustration of all involved.  (LAT)
*  Olvera Street, what to do regarding collection of new, increased rents; questions re legal issues, politics...  Downtown News editorial argues that, even with (another) revenue shortfall of almost $900,000 apparently in the works this year at Olvera Street (with these funds having to be made up from the city's general fund), there does not appear to be either the political or legal will at City Hall to pursue collection of higher rents even from merchants who were given timely legal notice of these increases but who have deliberately refused to pay same.  And that this is unfair both to the merchants who have complied as well as to the city as a whole.   (DTN)

News of the Day: Saturday/Sunday, June 19-20

* "Death by 1,000 cuts"....  Fees to clean up a crash scene:  $498; more if the work takes more than an hour.  Fee to owner who wishes to surrender a pet to the city's animal control office:  $25; also, $20 for disposing of a dead cat or dog.   Increase in developer fees for plan checks; increase in fees for street artist permits; increase in food-permit fees for caterers. 
No, not just in Los Angeles.  These are items on the table in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom has included more than two dozen new or higher fees in its budget plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.  And, not unlike Los Angeles, the driving force behind looking at various increased "fees" as a means of balancing the budget rather than new taxes is that taxes in California require voter approval, which is often a daunting prospect.  
Thus, "Newsom's budget steered clear of new taxes.  Several supervisors, however, have floated options for the November ballot that, if targeted correctly, they say would be a more equitable way to bring in money.  Business leaders have criticized the proposals as job killers."  (SF Chron)
* Another twist, another turn:  Carson mobile home park conversion litigation, tenant concerns regarding efforts to lift the city's rent control laws.... Daily Breeze reports on the latest court ruling and what it means or may mean in terms of subdividing mobile home parks in the city of Carson and/or what it may mean in terms of lifting the city's strict municipal rent controls  (DB)
* Election-year deficit fears:  Will there be more stimulus money from Washington coming any time soon???   Politics, politics, politics.  And especially election-year politics. 

Washington Post reports that "Congress has delivered only a quarter of the $266 billion in 'temporary relief measures' the president sought in his February budget request and ignored the rest.  There is unlikely to be another 'recovery' for Social Security recipients."  
And, "come December, Obama's 'Making Work Pay' tax credit -- the signature initiative he regularly touts as a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans -- will probably be gone.  Even the state aid that Obama last week called critical to preventing the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other government workers is foundering.  After days of talks, frustrated Democratic leaders in the Senate failed muster the 60 votes needed to approve the cash and left town for the weekend with no clear path forward."  (WP) 
* And, also on the subject of stimulus funding, Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein ponders the issue of the stimulus and the "anti-stimulus". and how all of this is playing out vis-a-vis "the sharp fiscal contraction of state and local governments."  That is, where budget deficits are requiring governments to raise taxes or cut services and where "these budget shortfalls are the equivalent of a massive anti-stimulus, which some experts believe has overwhelmed" the original $787 billion approved by Congress last year.  (WP)
Seems like the "fiscal pickle" being encountered in Sacramento and elsewhere across the country with regard to budget shortfalls, employee benefits and pensions is attracting more and more attention and commentary....

    "California's fiscal pickle" -- possible "bombshell" regarding calculation of pension fund contributions required by CalPERS, CalSTRS, UC Retirement System as well as local governments.  (Sac Bee)

* Also from the Sacramento Bee:
  * Nearly $2.75 billion in paid time off due to California government employees = the equivalent of nearly 11 weeks of paid leave owed to each of the state's 176,000 state workers when they quit or retire.  (Sac Bee)
* And from the New York Times:  "Many states are acknowledging this year that they have promised pensions they cannot afford and are cutting once-sacrosanct benefits, to appease taxpayers and attack budget deficits." 

Some mechanisms used so far include raising the retirement age, requiring employee payments into the pension fund, requiring a minimum numbers of hours per week be worked in order to earn pension credit -- but almost all of the changes to date have been only in terms of employees hired in the future, while current employees will continue to keep building up their pensions at the current rate.  With the notable exception here being Colorado, "which has imposed cuts on its current workers, not just future hires, and even on people who have already retired."  (And where retirees have sued to block the reduction....) 

"Other states with shrinking funds and deep fiscal distress may be pushed in this direction and tempted to follow Colorado's example in the coming years.  Though most state officials believe they are legally bound to shield current workers from pension cuts, a Colorado victory could embolden them to be more aggressive." (NYT)
 * Clarification of language for California water bond.....   Seems that the folks in charge of drafting the language of the $11 billion water bond on the November ballot may not have been as rigorous in dotting the i's and crossing the t's as they might have been, leading to a situation where folks in Sacramento are now trying to clean this up by way of legislation introduced this past week to "strike a provision that would allow private corporations to own, operate and profit from dams and other water storage projects built with taxpayer dollars." 
SF Chronicle reports that, in approving the package of water bond legislation including the water bond measure) last year, legislators say they did had not noticed the provision in the 26-page bill until it was pointed out to them in December.  "Since then, some legislators have been reassessing their support of the proposition, and the provision has been used by opponents in campaign materials to try to defeat the spending measure."
Also, at least some "opponents of the measure say they welcome the change, but that it would not move them to support the measure because it has too many other provisions they do not like, including the construction of dams.  They also are concerned because the bond will cost $24 billion out of the general fund over 30 years."   (SF Chron)
* The business of politics -- in India......    Washington Post reports that reaction to a proposed five-fold increase in pay for federal lawmakers in India is, perhaps understandably, mixed:
"'We cannot forever be stuck in Gandhi's image from the freedom movement.  In comparison, people think we are all corrupt crooks looting the nation'", writes a Congress Party lawmaker from Mumbai in an op-ed arguing for the raise.  And, perhaps not unlike what might occur elsewhere, there has been more than just a bit of a public outcry to legislation that has been recommended by a committee and that will soon be introduced in Parliament... where it is expected to face little opposition.  (WP)


News of the Day: Friday, June 18

*  Consulting contract at Port of L.A. to former L.A. deputy mayor.....  Kevin Acebo, former deputy mayor to Antonio Villaraigosa, will now oversee external affairs and lobbying efforts for the Port of Los Angeles.  Acebo, who served as deputy mayor for governmental affairs for three years, left City Hall in 2008 and now has a Long Beach-based consulting firm. 

Daily Breeze reports that Acebo will be paid $190,000 for the year-long contract with the Port.  The scope of his services under the contract will include responsibility for overseeing the Port's lobbying at the state and federal level, as well as marketing and communications.  (DB)

*  AEG and Jackson family to "contribute" $1.3 million to help cover costs of Michael Jackson memorial last year....  Yes, it will be a year next week since the Michael Jackson memorial service at Staples Center and the Nokia Theater.  And also a year with much media coverage of the back-and-forth between the parties -- including well-publicized requests by L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich that AEG pick up the entire cost of public services provided by the city in connection with the very large-scale event. 

Now, after all of the to-and-fro and jostling between the various parties, it appears that an agreement has been reached with the Jackson estate and AEG wherein the parties will "contribute" $1.3 million to help pay for some of the costs of the event.  The $1.3 million will include $1 million to the city's general fund and another $300,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation to help pay for equipment for the LAPD.  (DN, LAT)
*  Renewable energy legislation in Sacramento.  Moving forward???  Capitol Weekly reports that "a landmark agreement requiring California's utilities to get one-third" of their energy from renewable sources "is within striking distance."  And that negotiations have been under way for months between the governor's office and various interest groups, with  participants now saying they are close on this important issue that involves billions of dollars of worth of energy production and thousands of job at stake. "But close can be far in the Capitol."  ( Capitol Weekly )
*  And, speaking of renewable energy, Capitol Weekly  also has another interesting piece, this one on wind turbines and their increasingly important role in providing alternatives to traditional energy sources.....

*  And for those who are interested in stimulus programs and spending on infrastructure, an interesting Washington Post piece comparing what China has done in this regard vs. what has taken place in the U.S.....  In an effort to stave off a recession and keep their economy moving, in late 2008 the Chinese government initiated a $585 billion stimulus program.  The funds became the driving force behind infrastructure projects being built just about everywhere throughout the country, whether needed or not and whether or not the loans taken out to pay for the projects or the bonds floated by local municipalities could be repaid.  Now, with the stimulus program about to expire in six months, the question is what will happen when these bills come due?   (WP)