Mediation starts this week between Los Angeles County and lawyers for patient groups whose lawsuits have so far kept Rancho Los Amigos rehabilitation center from closing its doors.

The formal talks follow weeks of settlement negotiations aimed at keeping the world-famous public rehab center operating while allowing the county to stave off complete health-care meltdown. The parties are said to be trying to figure out how to transfer Rancho to a private operator.

A federal judge derailed the county’s targeted closures in April, saying there was insufficient evidence that patients would be able to get treatment elsewhere or that the county’s financial picture was as dire as portrayed.

Arguing that mounting deficits could put the health system $1 billion in the hole by 2007, the county asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule the decision and permit the shutdown of Rancho and the elimination of 100 patient beds at County-USC Medical Center. But the county, already in settlement talks, had its position undercut by revelations two weeks ago that the Health Department actually ended the last fiscal year with a $225 million operating surplus.

—Robert Greene

Calling All Cars

Councilman Tom LaBonge introduced a motion Friday to reopen a debate that a week earlier left seething council members accusing each other of deception and immorality. The subject was who does, and who does not, get their fair share of LAPD murder investigators, but it came to the council floor off the public agenda in the guise of an “emergency” attempt to revisit the whole issue of whether police should respond to almost-always-false burglar alarms.

The emergency for some was a recent Los Angeles Times story reporting that fewer detectives are devoted to solving killings in high-crime areas than in other parts of the city. Martin Ludlow shouted across the council floor that he was “offended” his colleagues from elsewhere around town do not consider unsolved murders in his South Los Angeles district an emergency. Greig Smith shouted back that discussion without adequate public notice was “immoral.” Bernard Parks had his own take on the question.

“Anyone in this council and this city that only became aware that certain parts of the city have more homicides than [others] just because they read a Times article must have been under a rock somewhere,” Parks said.

When the council takes up LaBonge’s motion and conducts a properly noticed September hearing with input from the LAPD and criminologists, cooler heads may prevail. Then again, they may not. Valley members like Smith demand more officers in their districts to reduce the current 12-minute response time, while Ludlow and his city-side colleagues insist on more police resources in their districts, where most of the killings are.


Some Holiday

The Los Angeles Superior Court is revisiting plans to steer court employees into unpaid days off, but this time has chosen a voluntary “flexible” system calculated to avoid the negative reaction that forced it to drop a furlough program last April.

Under the current system, each employee may select a schedule that includes one Friday off — without pay — every month. Court leaders say the money saved will help make up for severe cuts in funding that began early this year, even before the deadlock that delayed the current state budget.

In April, the court unveiled a mandatory eight-day furlough program that would have closed the courts while cutting nearly two weeks’ pay for most court workers. But pressure from state court leaders forced the Superior Court to dump the plan.


For Sale: Votes

A two-year effort to require elected officials to sit out votes on which they get lobbied by the people who build their election war chests and guide their campaigns was whittled Friday into a disclosure measure. But even disclosure will come into play only when the lobbyist raises, contributes or passes along at least $15,000 in one year to the elected official being lobbied. The threshold is more than twice as high for people lobbying the mayor, controller or city attorney.

Leading the retreat from the recusal requirement was Cindy Miscikowski, who generally has backed tough ethics measures but found little support among her colleagues for the new law. Miscikowski said the council should take the data it gathers from the new reporting requirement and decide in two years whether to try recusal again.

Only Wendy Greuel voted to reject Miscikowski’s motion and stick with the full disqualification law. Greuel couldn’t even get majority support for her move to close a key reporting loophole: A lobbyist can still avoid reporting how much he or she raised for a city official’s county or state campaign.

City Ethics Commission director LeeAnn Pelham said at least the public would now learn about some of the fund-raising lobbyists do. The public will also now “see elected officials presumably announcing that they have been lobbied by people who have raised funds for them,” Pelham said.


Just Let Go, Chief

A new three-year LAPD contract that would give officers a 9 percent raise over three years was approved Wednesday by the City Council. Councilman Bernard Parks called for further analysis of the raise, but the rest of the council signed on to the pact.

The contract raises officer salaries 2 percent this year, 4 percent next year and 5 percent the following year. It also gives Chief William Bratton new powers to redeploy officers as he sees fit.


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