Housing Authority CEO resigns amid spending scandal

From Daily Breeze:

Ken Simmons, the interim chief executive officer of the city’s low-income housing authority, announced his resignation Thursday at the request of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“Although I know that you are deeply committed to the housing authority’s priorities, it is clear that a decisive break with past policies and practices is necessary,” Villaraigosa said in a letter to Simmons dated today.

In an email to the board members that oversee the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, Simmons cited an inability to overcome the misdeeds of the agency’s former head, Rudolf Montiel, who was ousted in March.

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Recession has created more economic polarization in California

From Sac Bee:

California’s worst recession since the Great Depression has hit all economic classes, but has had a particularly harsh effect on those in the lower income brackets and has exacerbated the state’s socioeconomic polarization, a new study by the Public Policy Institute of California determined.

One result has been that the ranks of the economic middle class have thinned to less than half of the state’s population, PPIC found.

Unemployment and underemployment are the hallmarks of the Great Recession,” Sarah Bohn, who co-authored a report with Eric Schiff, said in a statement accompanying its release. “This suggests that policies that create jobs and promote full-time employment – rather than those that target wage rates – are more likely to be effective in raising family income to pre-recession levels.”

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Issa expanding probe of fuel economy standards

From the Press-Enterprise:

Inland Rep. Darrell Issa is intensifying his probe into the California Air Resources Board and the role it played in negotiations that led to tough new federal fuel economy standards.

Dissatisfied with information provided so far by the state agency, Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is readying a second round of questions for the board’s chairman, Mary Nichols.

At issue is whether state officials were improperly involved in talks that yielded new standards requiring the nation’s fleet of cars and light-duty trucks to achieve 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.4 by 2025. The latter number is roughly twice today’s 27.3 standard.

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California ethics agency relaxes rules on gifts to politicians

From LA Times:

Reporting from Sacramento— State lawmakers and city council members can accept expensive gifts from lobbyists without disclosure if they are dating, and can receive meals and lodging in lobbyists’ homes without telling the public, under rules approved Thursday by the state ethics agency.

In addition, officials can accept tickets to Major League Baseball games and other sports and entertainment events if they are performing a “ceremonial duty,” such as throwing out the first pitch. They no longer have to report such gifts, although their government agency must do so, and now they can bring a guest. In another change, it doesn’t matter how much the gift is worth.

The rules overhaul by the Fair Political Practices Commission came in the wake of politicians’ complaints that they were confusing and overly intrusive.

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Ballot proposal would make California Legislature part-time

From Sac Bee:

A constitutional amendment to switch California’s Legislature to a part-time body meeting about three months per year was proposed today by a Republican lawmaker and the head of a political watchdog group.

The measure by Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, and Ted Costa of People’s Advocate, also would cut legislators’ salaries from $7,940 per month to $1,500 per month — or $18,000 annually.

The measure was filed today with the state Attorney General’s Office, a first step toward launching a campaign to gather the 807,615 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot, Costa said.

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Audit rips California’s school construction safety oversight

From Sac Bee:

State oversight of seismic and structural safety standards on school construction projects throughout California has been ineffective and incomplete, with thousands of projects left uncertified even after they are finished, the state auditor said today.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a report that the Division of the State Architect “has not provided an effective, comprehensive level of oversight of school construction processes,” including no evidence of site visits in some cases, and only infrequent site visits in others.

The report, which you can read in full at this link, also criticized the division’s oversight of local project inspectors, who are either school district employees or contractors. The state sometimes excused those inspectors from required training and has not always ensured inspectors passed current exams, the audit said.

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CA same-sex marriage ban gets another day in court

From Fresno Bee:

The sponsors of California’s gay marriage ban renewed their effort Thursday to disqualify a federal judge because of his same-sex relationship, but they met a skeptical audience in an appeals court panel.

It’s the first time an American jurist’s sexual orientation has been cited as grounds for overturning a court decision.

Lawyers for a coalition of religious conservative groups told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker should have revealed he had a long-term male partner before he presided over a trial on the measure’s constitutionality. He also should have stated whether he had any interest in getting married, the lawyers said.

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California revenues, spending beat projections in November

From Sac Bee:

Some good budget news, for once. California beat its November revenue projections by $497.7 million, or 8.9 percent, state Controller John Chiang reported today.

That comes just days before the Department of Finance is slated to announce how much money it believes California will receive for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which will ultimately decide how much the state has to cut starting in January.

Through the first five months of the fiscal year, California is $1 billion short of its revenue forecast, or 3.4 percent, better than the $1.5 billion revenue gap Chiang reported last month.

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Court supports San Diego water transfer

From San Diego Union-Tribune:

A state appellate court Wednesday ruled in favor of a landmark agreement that for years has delivered a vast supply of water to the San Diego region while under a legal cloud.

But at the same time the court declined to determine separate environmental issues related to the water transfer and a 2003 seven-state deal to share the Colorado River.

Instead, those questions involving air quality and the future of the Salton Sea have been sent back to a Sacramento County court for answers.

Most immediately, the Third District Appellate Court ruling allows the San Diego County Water Authority to continue buying the water from Imperial County farmers.

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California’s middle class shrinks to below 50 percent

From Contra Costa Times:

Not even half of California’s families are middle class anymore as the recession and its aftermath widened the gap between rich and poor, according to a new report.

Three decades ago, 60 percent of California families could count themselves in what the Public Policy Institute of California calls the “middle-income” bracket. Not rich but doing reasonably well, the middle class formed a comfortable majority and shared the state’s prosperity.

But the portion of middle-income families slipped to 49.7 percent last year, according to the nonpartisan research group’s study. Using census figures and a federal standard-of-living measure adjusted for inflation, the report defines the middle-income bracket as families who earn $44,000 to $155,000 a year.

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