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Category: Government

AEG move could help L.A.'s bid for NFL team, councilwoman says

A rendering of AEG's proposed NFL stadium, Farmers Field, in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: AEG

An influential L.A. councilwoman expressed hope the decision to halt the sale of AEG will bring stability to the company and boost L.A.'s chances of luring an NFL team to Los Angeles.

Billionaire Philip Anschutz announced he has decided not to sell AEG, which owns Staples Center, LA Live and the Los Angeles Kings. AEG is behind the effort to build an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles and lure professional football back to the city.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area that includes AEG properties Staples Center and LA Live, said she hopes the decision will bring “a measure of stability and certainty” to the company as it seeks to lure an NFL team to Los Angeles.

“When Phil Anschutz said he was going to sell off the company, I don’t think that strengthened AEG’s hand in its negotiations with the NFL," she said. "It’s always difficult to change [owners] in midstream.”

AEG: A look back

In September, the Los Angeles City Council approved plans for the $1.2-billion plan, which included a 72,000-seat stadium.

The deal was hailed as an effort to make downtown Los Angeles — home to the Lakers, Clippers and Kings — a professional sports powerhouse, sparking new economic activity and bringing major renovations to the struggling Los Angeles Convention Center next door.

But it remained a question as to whether AEG could lure the NFL back to L.A.

Anschutz said he plans to resume a more active role in the company. He announced in September he was seeking bidders in a sale that some insiders said could have fetched up to $7 billion.

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Photo: A rendering of AEG's proposed NFL stadium, Farmers Field, in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: AEG

Suspending some standardized tests could save state $15 million

Tom Torlakson

A plan to suspend California’s standardized testing for certain grades while new computerized exams are developed could save $15 million, the state’s top education official said Wednesday.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recommended to the state Board of Education that the savings be used instead to develop higher-quality tests linked to new uniform but voluntary academic standards. They have been adopted by 45 states, including California, which plans to roll them out in the 2014-15 school year.

The new standards are aimed at fostering more critical thinking, sophisticated writing and other higher-level skills. 

“Rather than continuing to spend scarce dollars and precious class time on outdated testing, we can invest these resources in developing the next generation of assessments that will help students focus on critical thinking and problem-solving -- the skills they will need in college and their careers,” Torlakson said in a statement.

But some analysts have estimated that it could cost as much as $1 billion for the textbooks, teacher training and technology needed for computerized tests related to the new standards. As a result of such concerns, state Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale) has proposed delaying the suspension of current tests until 2016.

Torlakson has sponsored a bill by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) to suspend most of the standardized testing beginning next fall.

Torlakson has recommended suspending tests that are not required by the federal government, such as math and English in second, ninth and tenth grade, and those given at the end of high school courses in such subjects as world history and biology.

Tests to evaluate whether high school juniors are on track to meet the academic expectations of California State University would not be suspended.

“These new assessments will provide our schools with a way to measure how ready students are for the challenges of a changing world,” Torlakson said. “That’s why, despite the budget and other challenges, California must move forward now so that all children -- no matter where they come from or where they live -- receive a world-class education.”

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Photo: State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a 2010 file photo. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Garcetti says L.A. is lazy about recruiting international investment

Eric Garcetti

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that city leaders have not done enough to promote international investment here or to recruit businesses from other nations, adding that if he is elected, he would pursue those opportunities more aggressively in Latin America and Asia.

“We’ve had successful trips of mayors abroad,” Garcetti told members of the L.A. Metropolitan Hispanic Chambers of Commerce at a luncheon in Silver Lake. But “it’s like a balloon that we blow air into, as soon as we leave, it deflates. I want to have much more of a permanent presence, especially with our large trading partners in the capitals.”

He proposed opening city offices in such key destinations as Seoul to encourage trade, tourism and investment, noting that even the small state of Arkansas has an office in Shanghai.

Garcetti, a Rhodes Scholar who taught at Occidental College and USC, said the city's next mayor should be as culturally fluent as possible.

Making a subtle contrast to rival Wendy Greuel, who has spent much of her career in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Garcetti noted that he would bring “the experience of having lived abroad, having traveled abroad and having taught international relations” to the role of mayor.

“I understand that our success is really tied to the international economy,” he said.

Continue reading »

LAFD chief wants 911 dispatch center linked to other fire agencies

The Los Angeles Fire Department will upgrade its 911 dispatch center to work with neighboring fire agencies and help ensure the closest available rescuers are sent to victims during life-threatening emergencies, Chief Brian Cummings said Wednesday.

A Times analysis of city and county records published in October found that in more than 70,000 emergency medical calls since 2007, the LAFD sent its own rescuers to victims despite the fact that Los Angeles County firehouses were closer to the scene.

More than 1,300 of those cases involved cardiac arrests, in which seconds can mean the difference between life and death. In two cases highlighted by The Times, cardiac arrest victims died after waiting for LAFD units when county help was closer.

In an interview with The Times editorial board, Cummings said he would like to see a seamless network that connects dispatch systems across municipal borders. The LAFD is in the early stages of developing a new computer system designed to work with neighboring dispatch centers, although other agencies will have to pay for similar upgrades to make the plan work.

Potential partners include the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Long Beach Fire Department and the consolidated dispatch center that covers Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and nine other cities, Cummings said.

Continue reading »

Steinberg to introduce bill for online class college credit

Darrell Steinberg

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) plans to introduce a bill Wednesday that would create a framework to allow students at California’s public colleges and universities to receive credit for some online courses.

The bill takes aim at the chronic problem of over-enrollment in core classes at the community college, CSU and UC level, according to Steinberg’s spokesman, Rhys Williams.

The issue has been exacerbated by severe budget cuts and increasing demands on the state’s higher education systems, forcing students to delay degree completion and take on even more student debt, Williams said.

Steinberg is expected to announce his sponsorship of the bill, fittingly, during an online media conference on Google Hangout.

Steinberg’s move comes as Gov. Brown pushes for more online education as a way to cut costs and widen access at state campuses.

Williams said the online course framework, if approved, would be the first of its kind in the country.

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Photo: State Sen. Darrell Steinberg in a 2012 file photo. Credit: Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee

Greuel, Garcetti courted big labor group for endorsement

As she sought the endorsement of the county’s most influential public employee union Tuesday, mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel dismissed criticism of her backing from organized labor, saying unions are not political "baggage."

“When I go out to parts of the city and they say to me, ‘I’m not sure I can vote for you because you’re the labor candidate.’ Guess what? I’m proud to have labor support," said told the political committee of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an umbrella group representing 600,000 workers. 

"You know what they also say?" Greuel added. " ‘You’re a special interest. Ooh. That’s horrible,’ " she said, mockingly. “I’m proud that you’re a special interest. And you’re a special interest for the working men and women.”

Greuel made the remarks at a closed-door meeting of the labor federation, shortly before 70% of the committee voted to give her their endorsement. The Times acquired recordings of portions of the remarks made by both Greuel and her rival, Councilman Eric Garcetti.

The endorsement will not be official until two more votes occur over the next week, but those approvals  are considered largely procedural.

As she has in the past, Greuel accused Garcetti of failing to engage in collective bargaining –- a  reference to a pivotal vote last fall on pensions. That was when city officials hiked the retirement age and scaled back pension benefits for newly hired civilian city workers, over the objections of unions that said the changes had not been properly negotiated. The changes take effect July 1 and are designed to save $4 billion over 30 years.

“It’s about collective bargaining. How important is collective bargaining to all of us? It is the heart and soul of what you stand for,” Greuel told the labor committee.

Garcetti voted to support the pension changes. His spokesman, Jeff Millman, defended the councilman’s handling of the vote on retirement benefits and questioned whether Greuel would side with unions who are now challenging the pension rollback.

“Eric collectively bargained hundreds of millions of dollars in real pension reform. While Ms. Greuel won't say it publicly, it appears she would undo the city's pension reforms,” he said.

In a phone call, Greuel would not say whether she would side with unions that have filed a challenge to the pension changes. But she said she favored both the pension rollback and the collective bargaining process.

"I supported the reforms," she said. "I think there should have been collective bargaining."

As city controller, Greuel did not have to vote on the rollback of benefits for new employees. Officials who supported the pension changes were warned by the labor federation's leader, Maria Elena Durazo, that their votes would “come back and haunt” them.

Garcetti, who has sharply criticized the multimillion-dollar campaign support Greuel has received from city employee unions, argued in Tuesday's meeting that he was not attacking labor.

“I haven’t hit back at labor,” he said. “Let me be clear. The term special interests … is not something I’ve used to attack labor.”

He also argued that he has long supported the cause of labor, such as crafting an ordinance that forbids the opening of nonunion Wal-Mart SuperCenters in the city. “As we speak right now  I’m doing more to promote labor … on issues that you care about than anybody else in this race,” he said.

“But I have more in that plus column that anybody in this race,” he said. “And I’m going to win. I’m going to be the next mayor. And I can’t wait to get to work with each of you, each of you, no matter where you are in this race.”

Once news of the labor federation vote broke, Garcetti’s campaign responded by trumpeting its support from other unions, including Teamsters Joint Council 42, the Communication Workers of America’s Southern California Council, Laborers' Local 300, and the Service Employees International Union’s United Service Workers West.

"We are already making calls and knocking on doors for Eric Garcetti," said Ron Herrera, of the Teamsters' council, said in a statement. Garcetti is the preferred choice of his union, he said, because of the councilman has shown a strong ability to grow jobs in his district.

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Supervisors pull back storm water pollution fee proposal

Faced by widespread public opposition, Los Angeles County supervisors sent a proposed parcel fee to combat storm water pollution back to the drawing board.

The proposed fee would be levied on all property owners within the county's flood control district, raising an estimated $290 million a year to help cities and the county deal with widespread water quality issues stemming from polluted storm water and urban runoff and the need to comply with new state regulations.

The supervisors had contemplated putting the fee on a mail-only ballot to the affected property owners. They rejected that notion in a vote Tuesday, while leaving the possibility open for a reworked measure to be placed on the ballot in a general election in June or in November 2014.

Unlike the mail-only vote, which would have required a simple majority, a vote in the general election would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

The board first considered the proposal in January but deferred a vote after a contentious hearing at which nearly 200 people spoke. Although Tuesday's hearing was somewhat more sparsely attended, it still lasted more than three hours.

Continue reading »

Greuel picks up another big union endorsement

Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel addresses supporters on March 5. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images

The political committee of a powerful Los Angeles County labor organization has backed City Controller Wendy Greuel in the mayoral runoff election after declining to pick a candidate in the primary.

After both Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti spoke Tuesday morning at the political committee of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Greuel won 70% of the vote, a little more than the two-thirds necessary for endorsement. The vote must be ratified by the federation’s executive committees and delegates, votes that will take place over the next week. But those moves are largely considered procedural.

“Wendy Greuel was pleased to participate in the first step of a three-step process at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in asking for their support,” said Greuel spokesman Dave Jacobson. “She is proud of her broad base of support from working men and women ranging from 911 operators to nurses to firefighters to trash haulers as well as her far-reaching support from the business community, including the L.A. area Chamber of Commerce, VICA and Bizfed.”

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The federation represents 600,000 workers, and part of its clout lies in its ability to spend big while communicating with its members. In 2005, the year the group backed then-Mayor James Hahn, the federation spent nearly $373,000 on mailers and expenses designed to turn out its union members on election day. That money was not governed by campaign spending limits. Hahn lost to then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

Continue reading »

Garcetti garners endorsement of Art Torres

Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaks to supporters last week on election night. He has won the endorsement of Art Torres in the mayoral contest against Wendy Greuel.Comparing Eric Garcetti to President Obama, former California Democratic Party chairman and state Sen. Art Torres on Monday endorsed Garcetti for mayor of Los Angeles.

Garcetti will prevail in the runoff against Controller Wendy Greuel, Torres predicted, because, like the president, he holds progressive ideals and is appealing to a younger demographic who will turn out to vote for him.

"He's got the same kind of leadership that the president exhibited,'' Torres said to a small crowd of supporters and Democratic activists gathered outside Casa Torres restaurant in Sylmar. "Eric is going to exhibit that leadership as mayor."

Torres was in the state Legislature for 20 years, representing the east side of Los Angeles first as an Assembly member and later as a senator. He also served as chairman of the California Democratic Party for 13 years, stepping aside in 2009.

Torres said he's known Garcetti most of his life because he worked with the candidate's father, former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, on anti-gang and crime laws while in the Legislature. Eric Garcetti showed signs of leadership early on, Torres said, but "I just didn't know he would move up so quickly."

Garcetti is a three-term city councilman. Greuel served on the City Council before becoming controller. They will face off in a May 21 mayoral runoff.

Continue reading »

L.A. Votes: Garcetti, Greuel reach out; how the tax vote varied

How LA voted
After winning spots in the May 21 mayoral runoff, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are back on the campaign trail and heavily courting two distinct constituencies -- black Democrats in South Los Angeles and white Republicans in the San Fernando Valley.Election Memo

The candidates are also increasingly highlighting their plans to revitalize the city’s economy -- a reaction, some argue, to widespread criticism that Greuel and Garcetti failed to offer many specifics during the primary.

Many eyes turned to failed mayoral candidates Jan Perry and Kevin James, whose supporters could be key to winning in the May runoff. Perry has not endorsed, but had harsh words for Greuel’s ties to labor. James met with both remaining candidates in recent days as he decides whether to endorse.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The Times analyzed voter trends in the other big contest on the ballot: the half-cent sales tax increase that L.A. city voters rejected. The results showed a tale of two cities, with voters in the poorest parts of Los Angeles who are most dependent on city services more likely to support the measure, while residents in more affluent swaths were more likely to be against it.

Columnist Steve Lopez weighs in on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's supporting the sales-tax proposal as vital for retaining key city services, and then claiming that the city’s finances are rosier than believed after the tax failed at the ballot box.

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Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

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About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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