Index
Sunday
Jun072015

POLITICS (National): United States Postal Service, court ruling, rollback of January 2014 "temporary" postage increase: "USPS can't keep rate increase forever, court rules" ....

* Washington Post ("Federal Eye"):  "USPS can't keep rate increase forever, court rules" - From the WP:

The U.S. Postal Service will have to roll back a portion of its largest rate increase in 11 years after a federal court ruled that the higher postage prices in place since January 2014 can’t be permanent.

Postal regulators had agreed to a 3-cent emergency postage hike for first-class letters, to 49 cents from 46 cents, after the Postal Service said it needed to recoup billions of dollars it lost during the recession. The 4.3 percent increase came on top of the customary 1.7 percent postage prices have risen to adjust for inflation. But regulators set a cap on the amount of revenue USPS could recoup with the higher prices. The cap will be reached this summer.

USPS and the industry representing bulk mailers filed legal challenges as soon as the price increase took effect, with mailers challenging the recession’s justification for higher rates and the post office — which had pressed regulators for a 6 percent increase — arguing that the hike should be permanent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the emergency rates should not become permanent. The aftereffects of the recession have become “the new normal,” the ruling said — and the Postal Service must adjust to that reality.

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. . . . .As of Friday, it was unclear when the rates will be rolled back and by how much ................

Sunday
Jun072015

POLITICS/URBAN AFFAIRS (New York City): New York City, problems, concerns, "tenant relocation specialists": "Hassled at home? NYC eyes relocators who ask tenants to move" ....

* San Francisco Chronicle (AP):  "Hassled at home? NYC eyes relocators who ask tenants to move" - From the Chronicle:

NEW YORK (AP) — They're accused of showing up unexpectedly, calling again and again, following their targets to work and even approaching their relatives. They aren't bill collectors or bounty hunters but a curious feature of New York's superheated housing market: "tenant relocation specialists" hired to help landlords buy residents out of rent-stabilized apartments that could become much more valuable if they leave.

"They're slimy. ... They feel like if they do enough to scare you, you'll just give up," said Shawn Dahl, among the tenants whose complaints about stalker-like tactics have prompted officials to consider tighter controls.

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While some relocation specialists say they respectfully broker good deals for tenants, they've come under scrutiny in New York, where skyrocketing rents have created an increasingly potent incentive to induce rent-stabilized tenants to leave. Landlords often can get a vacant apartment deregulated, renovate and get triple the rent or more. There's no one typical scenario, but in one Manhattan building, a rent-stabilized two-bedroom can rent for about $1,100 while market-rate ones started at $4,800. Citywide, 266,000 apartments have been deregulated since 1994.

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Buyout pressures and claims of intimidation are also playing out in other cities including San Francisco, though without a focus on third-party, professional relocators.

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City lawmakers heard a litany of unsettling stories at a hearing this spring .......................

Sunday
Jun072015

LOCAL GOVERNMENT (Bay Area): San Francisco city budget, commentary (Heather Knight): "A city with an $8.96 billion budget should be able to ..."  

* San Francisco Chronicle (Heather Knight):  "A city with an $8.96 billion budget should be able to ..." - From the Chronicle:

It may not seem like it when you’re doing a two-step down city streets to avoid piles of trash, cigarette butts and even less savory detritus, but San Francisco spends more money every year than at least 10 states, including Iowa and Maine.

Mayor Ed Lee last week unveiled his new two-year budget plan, and he might as well have had that old song “Hey, Big Spender” playing in the background. For the first time ever, the city’s annual budget is projected to hit $9 billion, for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Well, $8.96 billion, but what’s $40 million among friends? The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is projected at $8.91 billion.

So just how much is that? For starters, it’s so many zeros my iPhone calculator can’t even show the number. Using a different calculator, we determined that’s about $190 million for every square mile in the city. Or roughly $10,500 per resident. Or another way to look at it? It’s about equal to the budget for the entire state of Nevada, which has more than three times the number of residents as San Francisco.

In 2013, San Franciscans were gobsmacked that the city budget was rapidly approaching the $8 billion mark — meaning we’re spending $1 billion more than we were just two years ago. Christine Falvey, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said the biggest increases in revenue have come from the transfer tax on sales of commercial real estate and from increased property taxes.

A number of departments will see big increases to their budgets . . . . . . . .

But why is the budget so big in the first place? .......................

Sunday
Jun072015

POLITICS/BUSINESS: Live Nation, concert employee wages, working conditions, commentary (Michael Hiltzik): "Exposing the employment ploy at concert promoter Live Nation" ....

* Los Angeles Times (Michael Hiltzik):  "Exposing the employment ploy at concert promoter Live Nation" - From the LAT:

Brian Hill is a 28-year-old stagehand from Atlanta who's been planning to address Wednesday's annual shareholders meeting of the giant Beverly Hills-based concert promotion firm Live Nation Entertainment.

Hill has been hoping to explain that Live Nation condemns stagehands in his home region to poverty-level wages while depriving them health and retirement benefits. Conditions in many venues are dangerous and unhealthy — sometimes the workers aren't even given water to drink. Safety training is all but nonexistent. This is the result, he says, of Live Nation's decision to hire its staff through a subcontractor named Crew One Productions, which provides stagehands and other technical personnel for entertainment venues in Atlanta and across the Southeast. Crew One can provide low-cost labor because it classifies those workers as independent contractors, not employees. Indeed, while Crew One deploys hundreds of stagehands, it claims to have only 12 employees in its five offices.

The Crew One stagehands are not subject to the contracts Live Nation has signed with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, for shows in which Live Nation is the direct employer. Union scale for stagehands in Atlanta runs from $18 to $26 an hour; employers also are required to contribute to IATSE's retirement and health insurance funds. (In Los Angeles, union rates are higher: At Staples Center, for instance, staffers earn a minimum of about $32 an hour.)

When Live Nation works through Crew One, however, the technical workers are paid as little as $9 an hour — a hair above Georgia's minimum wage of $7.25 — according to testimony delivered by Crew One General Manager Jeff Jackson at a National Labor Relations Board hearing in April 2014. It pays no health or retirement benefits. Crew One's "independent contractors" have to provide their own hard hats, rigging ropes and steel-toed work boots, which are required on the job. Crew One provides no safety training, Jackson acknowledged, though the firm's website declares, "We make safety a top priority."

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Glimmers of an agreement between Live Nation and IATSE over the Atlanta situation emerged last week, possibly because of the prospect of an organized protest at Wednesday's annual meeting, possibly because the company's national contract with IATSE is up for renegotiation at the end of this year, and possibly because we started asking questions of Live Nation in preparation for this column .....................

Sunday
Jun072015

LOCAL GOVERNMENT (Long Beach): Long Beach, housing code violations, preliminary approval, increased landlord penalties: "Long Beach moves to boost landlord penalties; tenants say more is needed" ....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Long Beach moves to boost landlord penalties; tenants say more is needed" - From the LAT:

The Long Beach City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a controversial plan that increases penalties for landlords who fail to properly maintain their rental properties but falls short of what tenant activists say is needed.

The 9-0 vote followed several hours of debate on a draft ordinance, prepared by city staff, that would boost fines for housing code violations found at rental units and expand efforts to educate tenants about their rights. Renter advocates opposed the proposal, saying it would not do enough to crack down on the worst landlords.

With dozens of tenants in matching T-shirts and property owners in the audience, council members amended the measure to increase the proposed landlord penalties. They also instructed city officials to utilize a state-run program that denies income-tax deductions to property owners with histories of outstanding housing codes violations. “It's a step in the right direction,” said Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez. “There is no easy fix for a problem so enormous.”

The council rejected demands from renter groups who want the city to adopt an enforcement model, similar to one used in Los Angeles, that allows officials to temporarily seize rent payments when landlords fail to make required repairs. Councilwomen Suzie Price said the L.A. program "is not fiscally or legally feasible.”

The council action followed a Times story Tuesday reporting that unsafe conditions can go undetected by Long Beach rental housing inspectors for months or even years, and that the city's oversight effort is less aggressive than those of some other large municipalities .....................