By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Where is Joel Wachs on the latest CRA giveaway?
This time last year, the San Fernando Valley councilman (looking very much like a future mayoral prospect) was riding herd on the city's redevelopment agency to protect the $TK million public investment in the new downtown sports arena. And with the Times riding shotgun on the issue, Wachs managed to secure "guarantees" from developers and squeeze out a reasonably good deal for the city.
Certainly a better deal than the city seems to be getting in the latest CRA mega-project to come down the pike - a $395 million tourist trap at the corner of Hollywood and Highland boulevards, developed by TrizecHahn Development Co. of San Diego. Two weeks ago the CRA voted to commit $90 million in direct city financing for the project - plus untold millions more in land giveaways and the like - to build a 3,000-car parking garage and a state-of-the-art live-broadcast theater to host the Academy Awards.
Despite the CRA's abysmal track record in Hollywood, where tens of millions in public money has been poured into white-elephant projects like the near-abandoned Hollywood Galaxy mall, just down the boulevard, and despite the city's equally abysmal track record in building live theaters (remember the Los Angeles Theater Center - over $30 million in the hole and bankrupt after four years?), the Hollywood-and-Highland project has been sailing toward approval with minimal scrutiny - and, so far, minimal guarantees that the city will ever recoup its investment. For instance, what if the Academy Theater loses money for the 51 weeks a year it is not hosting Oscar? And what about the escape clauses that let the Academy bolt from its Hollywood digs after 10 years?
Wachs, according to an aide in his office, has begun taking a look at these and many other questions concerning the TrizecHahn deal. And in the past few days, the Times has been calling the councilman to see where he stands on the issue. Stay tuned.
PUC's $89 million ad flopYou've seen the ads: the one where the pilot steers his Hawaii-bound jumbo jet to Alaska, or where the rocket scientist turns away from his monitor just as the Mars explorer beams back images of life on the red planet. They're goofy. A bit off-kilter. Developed by D.D.B. Needham, they are part of the $89 million campaign the state Public Utilities Commission has been running since the first of the month to let us know about the "new choices" in California's electricity industry.
We note these "choices" with some skepticism because, of the new electricity providers "competing" in California's deregulated "free market," none is able to offer what it seems consumers want most - lower prices.
That's because, as Greg Goldin detailed in a Weekly cover story a few months ago, no matter who you buy power from, the largest portion of your electricity bill will continue to go toward paying off the ill-conceived, unwanted multibillion-dollar investments in nuclear reactors made by SoCal Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric, and San Diego Gas and Electric.
No surprise, then, that that saturation marketing campaign - which costs four times what the state is shelling out to discourage smoking - has been a flop. To date, fewer than 1 percent of the state's 10 million power users (that's less than 100,000, if you're counting) have switched to new providers. And the only company willing to go head to head with the Big Three, a Texas utility giant called Enron, has pulled out of the market for the time being, despite having spent over $5 million trying to woo new residential customers.
So what have consumers gotten out of the ad campaign, other than the occasional 30-second laugh? A bill. Yes, the PUC is making you pick up the tab, right there in your monthly electricity statement, for informing you about something, it seems, you don't even want. Ain't the free market grand?
All Talked OutRemember "right-wing hate radio?" As a showcase for crazy white folks and an object of comment for the politico-pundit class, the genre some time ago lost its mantle to Jerry Springer and company. But be assured that in the small hours of the Los Angeles night, the rant goes on.
There is an ugly little lawsuit in the works, filed by a longtime listener against local talk-radio host Peter Ford, whose show airs TK evenings on KIEV TK. You know Ford's show even if you haven't heard him. We're told he's a big hit with Voice of Citizens Together, a wannabe militia from the Valley that fields "patriot patrols" along the border to defend against an invasion by Mexico, said to be imminent.
This kind of discourse apparently proved irresistible to John Birke, a former democratic State assembly candidate who became a regular caller on the show during the 1996 election season. Birke played the role of left-wing whipping boy, referred to on-air as "John the Commie." It was all good, clean, mutual hate, Birke says, until Ford stepped over the line and accused him, among other things, of having a prediliction for beating up young boys - Birke scuffled with Ford's son at a VCT rally in Westwood that turned ugly - and having multiple lewd-conduct priors when, as the record clearly shows, Birke has only one such conviction, for soliciting prostitution in 1994.