Money & Company

Tracking the market and economic trends
that shape your finances.

Category: Los Angeles

Real Estate | Autos | Consumer | Economy

KB Home earnings fall, but orders increase


Los Angeles home builder KB Home posted lower earnings in the fiscal fourth quarter compared with a year earlier as the company sold fewer homes in higher cost areas. But another development signaled some cause for optimism: New orders for homes from the company grew.

The company reported net income of $13.9 million, or 18 cents a share, for the three months ending Nov. 30. That compared with $17.4 million, or 23 cents, during the same period a year earlier.

"We believe these results demonstrate our success in adapting to current market realities and positioning our business for the future,” Chief Executive Jeffrey Mezger said in a statement.

Revenues in the fourth quarter grew 6% over the previous year to $479.9 million, and net orders increased 38% to 1,494. For all of 2011, the company widened its net loss to $178.8 million. That compared with a 2010 loss of $69.4 million.


Banks' foreclosure activity picks up

Many Americans expect to work until they're 80

Victims of improper foreclosure practices can submit claims

-- Alejandro Lazo

Photo: Associated Press

More holiday shifts for Los Angeles employees than in other cities

Employees in Los Angeles aren’t much for holiday spirit: 69% of them plan to work voluntarily on Christmas and/or New Year this year.

That’s more than any other major city, according to a new survey of 2,000 people conducted by workplace accommodation company Regus. Philadelphia is a close second, with 68.8% of employees planning to put in time on the holidays, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago.

Only 58% of New Yorkers intend to toil for their bosses over the period. Nearly 60% of Angelenos not only will work but also commute to the office to do so.

Employees in smaller businesses are also more likely to have holiday shifts. Compared with 59% of people at mid-sized companies and 49% of those at large firms, 68% of workers at companies with fewer than 50 people on staff will be doing their jobs on Christmas and New Year.

Not that all of them expect to be productive. In Southern California, 36% of holiday staff say they aren’t likely to get much actual work done.


Company holiday parties still muted in 2011 

Can your boss put your vacation requests on hold?

60% of workplaces surveyed block online shopping at the office

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Santa works hard by directing traffic. Credit: Francis R. Malasig / EPA

FDA's 1-800-GET-THIN warning follows L.A. County official's complaint

The Food and Drug Administration's warning to 1-800-GET-THIN, the company behind the advertising campaign for Lap-Band weight-loss surgery comes after Los Angeles County's public health chief, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, asked the FDA to to take action
The Food and Drug Administration has ordered 1-800-GET-THIN, the company behind the ubiquitous advertising campaign for Lap-Band weight-loss surgery, to take better steps to warn consumers about risks associated with such procedures.

The move, in an FDA letter to eight California surgical centers and the marketing firm 1-800-GET-THIN, comes one year after Los Angeles County's public health chief, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, asked the FDA to take action.

In a December 2010 letter, Fielding said "advertising of this medical device by 1-800-GET-THIN ... inadequately informs consumers of potential risks."

Since 2009, five patients have died following surgeries at centers affiliated with the ad campaign. A series of lawsuits blamed the deaths on mistakes by the surgery centers and doctors who performed the surgeries.

An attorney for 1-800-GET-THIN filed a complaint against Fielding with the county, contending that the county official had a conflict of interest because he's a former executive and a shareholder of Johnson & Johnson, which competes with Lap-Band manufacturer Allergan Inc. in the gastric-band market.

Fielding said he wasn't aware when he wrote to the FDA that Johnson & Johnson, where he worked in the 1980s, makes gastric bands. Regardless, he said, he would delegate any issues related to weight-loss devices to members of his staff.


Lap-Band clinic sued over death

Another patient dies after Lap-Band surgery

FDA accuses 1-800-GET-THIN centers of deceptive advertising

-- Stuart Pfeifer and W.J. Hennigan and

Photo: Paula Rojeski died Sept. 8 after having Lap-Band weight-loss surgery at an outpatient clinic in West Hills, officials said. She was the fifth person to die in the last two years after having surgeries at clinics that, according to wrongful-death lawsuits, are affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign. Credit: Marni Rader

FDA accuses 1-800-GET-THIN centers of deceptive advertising


Weight loss surgical centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing campaign have been accused by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of misleading consumers about the risks of the Lap-Band device used to treat obesity.

On Tuesday, the FDA announced that it has taken action against eight California centers by issuing warning letters because Lap-Band is a restricted medical device that is being misbranded because of allegedly deceptive advertising by the centers.

In a news release, the FDA announced that it warned that the organization’s billboards and advertising inserts used by recipients of the warning letters “to promote the Lap-Band procedure fail to provide required risk information, including warnings, precautions," and possible side effects.

Steve Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement: “The FDA takes seriously its responsibility to protect consumers from products promoted without adequate warnings. It's particularly troublesome when advertisements don’t communicate the serious risks associated with medical devices."

Five people have died since 2009 after Lap-Band surgeries at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and interviews.

In all, the FDA sent letters to Bakersfield Surgery Institute Inc., Beverly Hills Surgery Center, Palmdale Ambulatory Center, Valley Surgical Center, Top Surgeons LLC, Valencia Ambulatory Center LLC, Cosmopolitan Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, San Diego Ambulatory Center LLC and 1-800-GET-THIN LLC.

[Updated at 11:53 a.m.: 1-800-GET-THIN, the ubiquitous marketing campaign on billboards, television and the Internet, has led to a surge of Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries in Southern California. More than 100,000 people called 1-800-GET-THIN in its first 15 months of business, leading to more than 10,000 scheduled surgeries, the marketing company said in a trademark lawsuit.

The Lap-Band, manufactured by Irvine-based Allergan Inc., is a silicone ring that is surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating. The surgeries vary in cost — ranging from $12,000 to about $20,000 by some accounts — and often are covered by insurance.

The patients' deaths and injuries have led to a series of wrongful-death and personal injury lawsuits against 1-800-GET-THIN, its affiliated surgery centers and doctors who performed the procedures. Allergan is not affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN.

Another lawsuit, seeking class-action status, accuses 1-800-GET-THIN of false advertising, saying the ads failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks of the surgery. Wrongful death lawsuits allege that two brothers, Julian and Michael Omidi, were part of a "joint venture" that included the surgery centers and the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm.

Both Omidis have been disciplined by the state medical board over issues unrelated to 1-800-GET-THIN, according to state records.

Michael Omidi did not return a telephone call seeking comment. His attorney, Robert Silverman, also did not immediately comment.

1-800-GET-THIN and the Omidi brothers have filed a series of lawsuits against The Times, its journalists and website commenters over past coverage of the surgery deaths. Judges have dismissed three of the lawsuits and ordered the plaintiffs to pay The Times' legal expenses and fees in two of the cases.]


Lap-Band clinic sued over death

Another patient dies after Lap-Band surgery

Tighter scrutiny for outpatient surgery centers

-- W.J. Hennigan and Stuart Pfeifer and

Photo: The 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm promotes Lap-Band surgeries on Southern California billboards as well as on TV, radio and the Internet. Above, a pair of billboards in 2010. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

Ask Laz: Handling neighbor's debris from recent windstorm [Video]

Good fences make good neighbors, as Robert Frost wrote, but they aren't always a good barrier against the mighty Santa Anas.

And now that last week's fierce winds have settled, you might have found the better part of your neighbor's trees are scattered across your fence and in your yard.

Last week's Southern California windstorm caused at least $40 million in damage, though that number is expected to rise. Pasadena, for instance, sustained nearly $20 million in damage from more than 1,200 downed trees that crushed cars, knocked out power lines and scarred homes and businesses, according to city officials. 

KTLA viewer Rosella's place was trashed in windstorms. Her neighbor's foliage is now hanging on her side of the fence.

Who is responsible for cleaning up the mess?

Los Angeles Times consumer columnist David Lazarus digs through the debris to offer an answer.




You can watch David Lazarus on KTLA-TV Channel 5 weekday mornings and during the 1 p.m. newscast. 

If you have a burning consumer-related question, write or send a video to You might just get David's answer on KTLA. 


Windstorm caused more than $40 million in damage

State emergency management officials tour wind-damages areas

All Edison customers' power restored a week after windstorm  

-- Michelle Maltais

Southern California Food 4 Less workers authorize Kroger strike [Updated]

Inspired by strike threats from workers at Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons earlier this year, Food 4 Less employees voted Thursday to authorize a strike if parent company Kroger Co. does not offer them better wages and benefits.

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) from seven Southern California unions said workers at Food 4 Less sometimes make as much as $3 less than comparable employees at Ralphs, another Kroger chain.

The UFCW said in a statement that Cincinnati-based Kroger is “deliberately stalling progress” on negotiations as a way to “weaken union resolve.” Bargaining, the unions said, is expected to resume later this month.

UFCW finalized a three-year labor contract with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons in September after months of negotiations, calling the final deal a “win-win” for both sides.

“We have seen what staying united can do when you are in a fight with mega-corporations,” said UFCW member Beatrice Lopez in a statement Friday. “UFCW members at Ralphs stuck together and ended up with a contract that shows them respect. We are going to do the same.”

Kroger could not be reached for comment. Other Kroger chains include Fred Meyer and City Market.

[Updated 1:30 p.m.: “Food 4 Less remains committed to reaching an agreement that is good for our employees and helps keep union jobs sustainable for the future,” said Kendra Doyel, a spokeswoman for the chain, in a statement. “We will continue to work with union leadership to negotiate a contract. Our employees do not want to strike and they look forwrad to serving customers in our stores throughout the holiday season.”]

The grocery chain’s same-store sales without fuel were up 5% in the third quarter ending Nov. 5 compared to the same period last year -- making for 32 straight quarterly increases, Kroger said.

Earnings were down to $195.9 million, or $0.33 per diluted share, from $202 million, or $0.32 per diluted share in the same period last year.

In a conference call with analysts this month, Kroger President W. Rodney McMullen said the company had closed labor negotiations in Southern California, Ohio, West Virginia and Washington.

“Our objective in every negotiation is to find a fair and reasonable balance between competitive costs and compensation packages that provide good wages, high-quality affordable healthcare and retirement benefits for our associates,” he said.


Grocery strike averted with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons

Grocery strike avoided; deal called 'win-win' for both sides

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo credit: Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press

Ramsey-Shilling property brokerage bought by Avison Young

Avison Young Press Shots_0068
Prominent Los Angeles property brokerage Ramsey-Shilling Commercial Real Estate Services Inc. has been bought by Avison Young, Canada’s largest independent commercial real estate services company.

Avison Young plans to acquire more Southern California brokerages and other real estate companies in the U.S. in the months ahead, Managing Director Neil Resnick said. Resnick, a broker formerly with Grubb & Ellis, opened Avison Young’s first Los Angeles office in August.

The acquisition of Ramsey-Shilling for an undisclosed amount added 23 employees, including 18 brokers. Over the past three years, Avison Young has grown from 11 to 26 offices including 11 in the United States, Resnick said. It has more than 900 employees.

“This is the beginning of what will be many” more branches, he said. “We are actively looking at other brokerages and individuals to join us.”

Ramsey-Shilling has had a high profile in Hollywood, where its brokers negotiated such deals in recent years as the sale and lease of the landmark Capitol Record building and the sales of the former ABC Studios, El Capitan office building, Palladium night club and the former Frederick’s of Hollywood building.

Other sales brokered by Ramsey-Shilling include the Rox-San office building in Beverly Hills and the Omni Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

“The vision for Avison Young is to have Southern California be one of its biggest and most important markets, if not its single most important market,” said Christopher Bonbright, who was chief executive of Ramsey-Shilling and is now an Avison Young principal. “We want to be absolutely competitive” representing landlords and tenants.

Being part of a larger organization should help land clients, Bonbright said, because Ramsey-Shilling sometimes lost jobs to large international firms such as CBRE Group Inc. and Jones Lang LaSalle.

Other former Ramsey-Shilling brokers joining Avison Young as principals are Mark Evanoff, John Tronson and Michael Dettling.


Hollywood office tower sold to Hudson Pacific for $92.5 million

California, Nevada team up to investigate foreclosure fraud

Phoenix Realty buys Long Beach apartment complex

-- Roger Vincent

Photo: Christopher Bonbright, left, and Neil Resnick of Avison Young. Credit: Richard Friedman


Mosaic Apartments to open in L.A.'s Pico Union district

Mosaic Apartments, a $21-million affordable housing project in the historic Pico Union area of Los Angeles, is set to open Thursday.

The 56-unit complex west of Staples Center near the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Union Avenue was developed by Amcal Multihousing Inc. of Agoura Hills to house low- to moderate-income renters.

The rapidly changing neighborhood is experiencing new interest from developers due to substantial commercial and residential growth in the adjacent South Park district and attractions such as L.A. Live, said Percival Vaz, chief executive of Amcal.

The design of Mosaic’s two three-story buildings is intended to complement the neighborhood’s historic housing created in the late 19th century and early 20th century — Craftsman, Queen Anne and American Foursquare homes — said architect Wade Killefer of Killefer Flammang Architects.

The project is divided by a long linear court. There are three smaller courtyards, one including playground equipment for youngsters who live at the development. Each building has a community room.

There is underground parking and ground-floor spaces for stores along Pico Boulevard.


Phoenix Realty buys Long Beach apartment complex

Apartment occupancy stable, rents on rise

Apartments under construction at Wilshire and Barrington

-- Roger Vincent

Photo: Mosaic Apartments.  Credit: Killefer Flammang Architects


Forever 21 expands in China with support from L.A. mayor

Los Angeles-based fashion retailer Forever 21 signed an agreement Tuesday to open a flagship store in Beijing, part of a greater plan by the company to expand into the world’s largest emerging consumer market.

In a ceremony attended by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the clothing maker committed to a 24,000-square-foot retail space in a multi-story mall located in the Chinese capital's central shopping district, Wangfujing.

Additional stores are set to open in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The brand briefly operated a store in Changshu, a city 70 miles from downtown Shanghai, but it closed two years ago because of poor sales.

Famous for churning out staggering numbers of new styles in record time, Forever 21 follows other mid-market fashion brands from abroad -- such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and the Gap -- into the Chinese market.

"The action and money is here," said Sung Won Sohn, the company's vice chairman. "China is the only locomotive left in the world."

China's retail sales grew 17.2% in October from a year ago, to $262.6 billion.

Sohn, who is also an oft-cited economist at Cal State Channel Islands, acknowledged the company's investment comes at a time when China could see a considerable economic slowdown. Exports are declining, and the property market has been stung by government restrictions.

"There's growing potential for a real estate bust," said Sohn, whose dark suit and white shirt contrasted with the brand's lively casual wear, known for wild prints and revealing cuts. (The person at the ceremony who appeared to be making the most effort to look fashionable was Villaraigosa's girlfriend, Lu Parker, who paired black knee-high boots with faux snakeskin pants and a black blazer).

But Sohn remained bullish on Chinese consumers, explaining that affordable brands such as Forever 21 tend to do well during recessions.

However, Sohn said, like most foreign retailers, Forever 21 clothing will be priced slightly higher in China than in the U.S. This comes despite lower Chinese household incomes and the fact that 60% of the brand's clothing is manufactured in the country.

But some things will remain the same. Sohn said the family-owned company had no plans to scrap printing Bible verses on its yellow shopping bags just for China, a country where religious worship remains muted and generally under the purview of the government.

"We have them in Birmingham, England, too, where there's a huge Muslim community," Sohn said of the biblical references. "I don't think that will change."

Speaking on stage at the event, Villaraigosa said Forever 21's Korean-immigrant roots embodied the story of L.A.

"Forever 21 is an L.A. fashion company we are very proud of," he said.

The mayor is on an 11-day Asian trade mission that is also scheduled to take him to Japan and South Korea.

On Monday, he met with the head of China's sovereign wealth fund, Lou Jiwei, who expressed interest in investing in L.A.'s public infrastructure -- possibly through the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Villaraigosa said.

The mayor didn't elaborate. He was in a hurry to remove specks of glittery confetti that had rained on attendees at the end of the ceremony –- lest he look too festive in his meetings that afternoon with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Vice President Xi Jinping, a man pegged to become the next president of China. 


Six businessmen to join Villaraigosa on Asia trade mission

Products made in China often cost more there than in the West

n China, L.A.'s Mayor Villaraigosa promotes language program

-- David Pierson in Beijing

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, center, raises a glass marking an agreement Tuesday to open a Forever 21 store in a Beijing shopping mall. Sung Won Sohn, the fashion retailer's vice chairman, stands to the mayor's left. Credit: David Pierson / Los Angeles Times

Hollywood office tower sold to Hudson Pacific for $92.5 million

A prominent Hollywood office building has been sold to a local real estate investment company for $92.5 million.

Hudson Pacific Properties Inc., which owns several entertainment-related properties, bought the 12-story TV Guide Hollywood Center at 6922 Hollywood Blvd. from CIM Group Inc.

The building across the boulevard from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is CIM Group’s headquarters and houses businesses including movie trailer and entertainment marketing company Trailer Park Inc. and J2 Global Communications, owner of the eFax and KeepItSafe brands.

The building was completed in 1967 and renovated by CIM Group in the mid-2000s. It is Hudson Pacific’s fourth property in Hollywood and seventh acquisition in the last 12 months, Chief Executive Victor Coleman said.

Hudson Pacific also owns Sunset Bronson Studios, Sunset Gower Studios and the Technicolor Building in Hollywood.


Hollywood hotel project back on track with new operator

Historic Lake Avenue property sold in Pasadena

Freddie Mac: Mortgage rates stuck in low at 4%

-- Roger Vincent

Photo: TV Guide Hollywood Center in Hollywood.  Credit: CIM Group Inc.

Occupy movement's next stop? Foreclosed homes.



After being evicted from parks and public spaces, the Occupy movement is set to move into foreclosed homes.

Organizers said Tuesday that they plan to help families across America fight foreclosure and eviction next week by "occupying" those properties. Some of the families will be moving back into their vacant properties, while others will resist eviction, said Peter Kuhns, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which is organizing some of the actions in Southern California.

“The original intent of Occupy Wall Street was to protest the excess of the big banks and Wall Street banks, so it seems like a pretty natural step for people to protest foreclosed properties,” Kuhns said. “Foreclosures are one of the biggest aspects of the economic crisis created by Wall Street bankers.”

Protesters also plan to disrupt foreclosure auctions across the country, where troubled homes are sold to investors and other cash buyers or repossessed by lenders. A website for the actions has been created, detailing in videos the histories of some homeowners facing foreclosure.

More than 30 foreclosed properties will be declared as "occupied" Tuesday, Kuhns said.

At least two of the homes will be in Southern California -- one in Los Angeles County and another in the Inland Empire, Kuhns said.

This is not the first incident of homeowners resisting foreclosure led by the group. Rose Gudiel, a homeowner in La Puente, refused to leave her property in September despite an eviction order, insisting she qualified for a loan modification. She ultimately won that modification.


Banks' foreclosure activity picks up

Many Americans say they will have to work until they're 80

Victims of improper foreclosure practices can submit claims

— Alejandro Lazo

Photo: Rose Gudiel, who purchased a home in 2005 in La Puente, fought eviction with family members. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...