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Archive for July, 2010

An article I just wrote for  Examiner.com is an update of an earlier post here, but it includes a very important update about pension negotiations in Los Angeles.

We are in for a long, ugly fight.

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Actually, it’s not much of a celebration.  I’m sitting here typing this post while fighting off hay fever. 

If you encounter an unintelligible string of characters, it is because I fell asleep on the keyboard.

Although my very first post was in late June 2009, I really didn’t start to ramp up until late July; therefore, I am arbitrarily selecting August 1 as the official birthday.  August 2009 was the first full month of steady publication.

Timing is everything – my start-up coincided with the CD2 special election.

The race resembled a rugby scrum at times with the ten candidates grappling for attention in the forums.  There were some colorful candidates who made an impression even if they didn’t secure many votes.

The views came rolling in because I offered the most complete campaign coverage.  No other blog or traditional media outlet came close.

If you want to relive that contest, just select “CD2 Candidate Forums” in the sidebar.

My favorite interview was the one I had with Chris Essel prior to the CD2 special election.  She was the most controversial candidate in the race.  I have to applaud her for providing direct answers to my questions.

My most unique achievement was cornering an obscure segment in the blogosphere – Morlock fans.  I never realized what a steady flow of views my article about a sharp drop in Valley Village voter registration would generate.  Almost every day there are search references for “Morlocks” that bring readers to the blog.

I am also the sole source of information for Richmond Spider athletics in California, if not west of the Appalachians.  The transfer of USC’s Aaron Corp to Richmond will make the upcoming football season more interesting.  The outlook for the basketball team looks bright. Just go to the “Sports” category.

My personal favorite as far as posts was this simple one I wrote when the Mayor was gallivanting around Europe last year –  it’s silly, but I like the feel, and that’s what counts.

I would like to thank my daughter Jeni for encouraging me to start the blog.  She also designed and created the banner.

Jeni has also designed materials for Neighborhood Council Valley Village. 

Her undergraduate and graduate degrees were in communications; she applies that knowledge in her career.

Many of my posts have been critical of our elected officials, although I occasionally intersperse a few complementary ones among them. I am not a negative person by nature, but our state and local leaders invite volumes of criticism through their inept governance, which has brought us to the sorry state we are in today.

I know I can be hard:  sarcasm, parody and logic are my weapons, but I steer clear of profane and personal remarks.

I will continue to be relentless in my coverage of the pension crisis, the city and state budgets and taxation. 

There are also the City Council elections coming up and the cynical attempt to repeal the citizens’ commission to redraw state and federal election district lines.

I will always welcome input from our elected officials.  Special thanks to Wendy Greuel and Carmen Trutanich for opening their doors to me. 

My main regret is not having time to adequately cover the LAUSD and the County.

Lastly, I would like to get back to writing articles on the national economy and related issues, such as housing and transportation.  If only some of our local politicians would stop distracting me with their penchant for mismanagement, I could pursue those subjects with regularity, but that’s probably asking too much of them.

I thank all of you for following the blog and I always appreciate your comments.

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It is a tragic coincidence that Neighborhood Council Valley Village’s annual promotion of Neighborhood Watch comes on the heels of Chere Osamanhodzic’s murder.  The event is always held on the first Tuesday of August, in conjunction with similar gatherings held nationwide.

The victim lived within walking distance from the venue – Valley Village Park.

You can learn the details of the event by going to myvalleyvillage.com.

Council Member Paul Krekorian will attend and address neighborhood concerns about the murder, which is the fith this year for the otherwise quiet and peaceful community of 23,000 residents (four of the five murders resulted from a shooting at a restaurant a block from Ms. Osamanhodzic’s home and were related to a personal dispute among the shooter and some of the guests).

I will be there along with the other members of the Neighborhood Council.

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An article appeared in Sunday’s LA Times by Evan Halper that should be required reading for everyone – especially for union leaders who swear that private equity deals are the way to reverse the massive losses in their pension funds.

Between the investigations of pension officials for alledged influence-peddling and their history of stonewalling requests for information regarding investment decisions cited by the article, we should be reluctant to allow Calpers or any state or municipal plan to invest in the private equity market.

Managing investments is challenging enough in the broader markets, where armies of analysts and regulators peruse the trading activity and public financial reports filed with the SEC.

Private equity investments are relatively thinly traded and receive considerably less scrutiny.  Why, then, should we trust government pension officials who resist turning over documentation related to investing in that market?  Can we trust their assertions regarding potential rates of returns on these deals? 

As the article states, taxpayer contributions to support Calpers have increased from $157 million in 2000 to $3.9 billion in the current year.

Similar trends can be found in most cities in the state.

There’s too much at stake to allow a handful of pension board members to play behind closed doors with investments shielded from the public eye.

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A crowd of about fifty people gathered on the corner adjacent to Chere Osmanhodzic’s home to celebrate her life.

A few members of Neighborhood Council Valley Village attended.

Regrettably, I was unable to attend, but I did notice the service taking place.

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What appeared to be just a house fire was possibly an attempt to cover up a murder.

Firefighters quickly knocked down a blaze at the corner of Irvine and Riverside yesterday afternoon only to find a body in the residence.

I observed the tail end of the event and was amazed at the number of units that responded – at least four engines and two hook-and-ladder companies.  The fire department’s quick and overwhelming response is worthy of praise.

The victim, Chere Osmanhodzic, was 34.

Her boyfriend reported confronting a man who was leaving the house.  He chased him for several blocks, but could not catch him.  By the time he got back, the house was in flames.

I Googled the victim’s name and came up with a Cheree Osmanhodzic, just one letter off in the first name.

While I can’t be certain it is the same person, the search result was for a wedding registry page for a ceremony this September.

If it is the same individual, it makes this case even more tragic.  KABC reported Ms. Osmanhodzic  had a wedding planned.

What is certain is that the murder scene is within one block of the restaurant where four patrons were shot to death just a few months ago.

Normally, burglary from automobile is the most common crime in the community.  These two back-to-back events prove how mercurial crime stats can be.

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I was not planning on discussing the gubernatorial race at this point, but pension reform cuts across all levels of government,

So when candidate Jerry Brown outlined a very basic framework to rein in pension costs, he got my attention. 

I will say Brown should be complimented for putting the issue on the table early in the campaign.  The more debate directed at it, the better.  By contrast, our Los Angeles City Council Members are addressing it in secret, if at all, for all we know.   They could learn a thing or two from Jerry.

For that matter, pension reform might even be a bigger issue in Bell than it is with Los Angeles City Hall, but I digress.

For the most part, Brown’s got it right:  increase employee contributions, extend the retirement age and put an end to spiking, the process by which employees’ earnings are enhanced in the few years leading up to retirement in order to inflate the base used to calculate benefits.

Although Brown did not mention specific contribution rate levels in his announcement Thursday, he will most certainly be compelled to do so in debates and interviews leading up to the election.  Both unions and tax advocate groups will see to it.

Where he falls short is by not insisting on a separate benefit tier for new hires, one that is based on a contributory plan, not the current defined benefit plan. According to the Los Angeles Times, Brown claimed contributory plans would “… cast everyone into the loving embrace of Wall Street.”

But the flip side of that argument is equally true – defined benefit plans force the taxpayers into the “loving embrace of Wall Street,” because the burden of risk is on them, not the plan participants.

Please read an earlier post of mine on the subject of pension reform, which outlined how a contributory plan could be structured to everyone’s benefit.

Still in all, if the contribution rate is set high enough, a defined benefit plan could be sustainable.  However, at least one major union – the SEIU – is very resistant to the idea, and there are many politicians who pander to the SEIU.

There is a long way to go until November, so I’ll save my breath for now and monitor the situation as it unfolds.

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