Proposition 24 would change tax laws for businesses


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Supporters say it would end tax breaks for big corporations. Opponents say it would hurt small businesses struggling to survive.

Proposition 24 would repeal three laws passed in 2008 and 2009 that cut business taxes.

Scott MacDonald is a spokesman for Stop Prop 24. He says those changes were designed to help small businesses weather times like these.

MacDonald: “We all know that this recession has hurt a lot of people. The last thing we need to do is burden the state’s small businesses and multi-state companies and others by passing Prop 24.”

That is not how Gregg Solkovits sees it. He is with United Teachers Los Angeles, which supports Proposition 24. Solkovits said with California’s budget problems, the state can no longer afford to give tax breaks.

Solkovits: A vote to repeal those tax breaks is a piece to solving California’s perennial budget problems. We have a revenue problem because we continue to give the wealthy and large corporations tax breaks.”

A poll taken last week showed voters tied, with a third still undecided.

Angelenos find cool ways to weather the heat wave

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Fall started last week, but it still feels like summer break to students like Catherine Munoz.

That is why she left school early Tuesday to swim at the Expo Center pool with her family.

“It’s hot, and you can’t stand the hotness right now,” Munoz said. “I came over here to cool off.”

She is one of many Angelenos finding creative ways to keep cool.

At the air-conditioned senior center next door, the exercise class is almost full. Mary L. Patterson is sipping coffee and chatting with friends while she waits for yoga practice to start.

She said she is glad for the refuge of the center, which she described as “a pleasant place.” She is trying to stay out of her house all day.

“If I had to go back home right now, I’d drive slowly, and I’d get there and just open my windows,” Patterson said. “I have air conditioning, but with the expense of the electric bill, I cool off that way.”

The pool and senior center are two of a number of public “cooling stations” offered across the city and county. Libraries and parks are also listed.

But tight finances mean that many places were not open in the morning, even as temperatures soared.

“Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, we’re opening our doors a little bit later, in the middle of the day,” said M’liss Causey, the director of the Hoover Recreation Center on 25th Street, near Adams Boulevard.

Causey said the park staff did not get any guidance on how to help the hundreds of visitors who come looking for shade, especially in the afternoon. Instead, they came up with their own plan.

“We found ourselves walking around offering anyone standing around a cup of ice water,” Causey said. “And the excitement that we received from people was just incredible. Everyone took one. People would stop by on bicycles, grab a cup and keep going. We’ll keep doing it every day if we have to until the heat can kind of die down.”

Michael Wilson, the spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said Los Angeles is generally weathering the sun well. Hospitals have seen only tiny increases in heat-related illness, he said.

Long-time residents like Gussie Edmondson said that they only cope well because they have already learned to cope.

“If it’s hot weather, I deal with hot weather,” Edmondson said with a shrug as she left the cool shelter of the senior center. “If it’s cold weather, I deal, because I have no control over it. So I have to adjust to the weather, not the weather adjusting to me.”

Change is on the menu for Clifton’s Cafeteria

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Some family businesses pass the torch among generations. At Clifton’s Cafeteria, the family hands over the tray.

That tray carries a long legacy. Clifton’s is the last of a chain of themed restaurants founded in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, the cafeteria was both affordable and an escape.

Outside, Clifton’s blends into the surrounding Jewelry District. Inside, it is a whimsical forest wonderland where diners chow down on turkey dinners and Jell-O by an indoor river. Life-sized fake redwood trees and a wall-sized mural line the room.

The kitsch does not seem like a natural fit for Clifton’s new owner. Developer Andrew Meieran is best known for creating trendier venues like downtown’s The Edison.

But the moment he walked into Clifton’s, he fell in love.

“The first thought was, ‘I can’t believe somebody did this,'” Meieran said of his initial visit. “They actually went ahead and did it. I was absolutely in love with the fact that there are people out there who spent their time. They found the artisans, and they’re still doing it. And that it’s still here and survived.”

Meieran has big plans for the cafeteria. He wants to add a lounge on its unused second floor, re-open its bakery and keep the bakery open every hour of every day. To do this, Meieran will hire 100 new staff, many of them through a partnership with a job training program at the Midnight Mission; the Midnight Mission’s main purpose is to help get the homeless off of Skid Row.

That all sounds good to Donald Clinton and his son Robert, the former owners of the cafeteria. They are staying on as landlords on a 40-year lease, but they do not intend to interfere.

“We’ve seen his plans, we’ve listened to him,” Robert Clinton said. “We’re as excited as he is about it. And so when we do come here to the cafeteria, we will be visitors.”

“But we’ll also be eating,” Donald Clinton added.

Louis Hernandez will also still be eating at the cafeteria. He has been a regular since 1956, but he is excited to see the changes.

“When I met my first wife, this is where I brought her to eat as a special treat,” he said. “This was a fantastic, elegant restaurant, and I wish that it would be restored to that level again. I love this place.”

Changing how teachers make the grade

The Los Angeles Unified School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to reform teacher evaluations.

The district will now begin negotiating with members of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions.

All sides agree that the current method of grading teachers needs work, but controversy remains over how to measure something as complicated as good teaching.

“It would be very difficult to design a worse system than we have currently,” says Gabe Rose, the deputy director of a Los Angeles parents’ union. He said valuations are not based on fact.

“The current system uses data for zero percent of evaluation,” he said. “It completely ignores and throws out all the data that Los Angeles Unified School District collects.”

That data, called “value added,” measures how much students’ test scores improve over the year.

But the teachers’ union and other groups worry that such numbers do not tell the whole story.

David Tokofsky, a former teacher and board member who represents the administrators’ union, said the tests ignore all subjects except English and math. He also said the tests might miss other parts of teaching.

“The excitement aspect, you can’t measure that as smiles per minute, but you certainly can measure whether or not a child is feeling competent enough,” he said.

South Los Angeles parent Rob McGowan agreed.

“Just like parents don’t want to be seen in a negative light over one thing, or one aspect, of what’s happening with their kids out of context, I think the same holds true for teachers,” he said.

School district officials agree that testing should not be the only metric used. They said most of the debate going forward will be about how large a part those test scores should play.

“What you’re going to see is a discussion around how much weight does each of these multiple measures get, and how do you do the specific formulas,” said Drew Furedi, a policy expert for the district. “And I think that’s to be discussed.”

Furedi did not know how long those negotiations would take.

Pot legalization initiative to appear on the ballot

State bans on recreational marijuana use are now a step closer to going up in smoke. Californians will vote later this year on a measure allowing people over 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot. Listen to an audio report by Ariel-Edwards Levy of Annenberg Radio News:

Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified March 24th that the petition had received more than 500,000 valid signatures. Dan Newman is a strategist working with the campaign. He says legalizing the marijuana business could reduce drug-related arrests and help California raise some much-needed green.

It’s estimated by California’s tax regulators that it would bring in over a billion dollars per year, which could be used by a state that’s obviously in dire fiscal straits right now, Newman says. That’s money that could be used to really fund what matters, while at the same time freeing law enforcement to be able to dedicate their resources to preventing violent crimes.

The initiative would also let people grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana. And it would allow local governments to further authorize the production and sale of marijuana.

Toking up in public, in the car or around minors would still be prohibited.

Community Alliances for Drug Free Youth spokeswoman Aimee Hendle says the bill still sends the wrong message. “Even if you try to slap an age limit on it, its been proven that when perception of risk is lowered, then the amount of use goes up” she said. “How can our kids say no when the adults around them are saying yes?”

Hendle says she is not convinced the bill will save money.

In 2005, the state of California spent $19.9 billion on substance abuse and addiction and only collected $1.4 billion in tax revenue, she says. If marijuana is legalized, its only going to add that deficit despite the money that tax revenue will bring in.

Early polling shows most Californians are high on the idea. The issue has not been on the ballot since 1972, when voters strongly rejected decriminalization. But a field poll taken last April found 56 percent of state voters favored legalizing and taxing pot.

People understand that the current marijuana laws just simply are not working, and that includes law enforcement officers, and judges and teachers and doctors, Newman says. There’s a pretty broad consensus that the situation right now doesn’t work, and if you set up a system with common sense regulations and controls, you not only would benefit from the tax revenue, but you would also take away the business model from these violent drug cartels.

A Rand Corporation report on the proposed legalization found that the effects would be hard to predict. The report said more research should be done on issues such as whether marijuana might become cheaper if legal, and if the heavy proposed taxes would keep the black market thriving.

If the measure passes, it will still conflict with federal law banning marijuana use.

To hear what South LA residents think about the initiative, listen here:

Teachers share reasons for marching

imageAfter the last bell rang on Thursday, many L.A. Unified School District teachers headed to Pershing Square to join a protest against education budget cuts.

The L.A. Unified Board of Education approved thousands of layoffs Tuesday afternoon, affecting teachers and other school personnel.

Many educators say they’re worried not just for their jobs, but also about the effects that cutting programs and raising class sizes will have on their students.

And while some are angry with the school district, others also feel betrayed by Sacramento, which dramatically decreased the funding provided to local schools.

The rally was one of several dozen held throughout the state and country, mostly on colleges campuses, as part of the March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education.

L.A. Unified teachers share their motivation for protesting.

LAUSD Board of Education approves layoffs for 4,700 employees

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted Tuesday afternoon to approve sending thousands of layoff notices to teachers and staff. Board members blamed cutbacks in state spending for the layoffs, which they said were unfortunate but necessary. Even though 4,700 employees will receive layoff notices, some workers may be able to keep their jobs. LAUSD is required to notify employees that may lose their job, and in the past the district has been able to rescind notices after additional funds become available. Ariel Edwards-Levy filed this report for Annenberg Radio News, click below to listen.

Council votes to turn over discretionary funds

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In a brief special city council meeting, members voted unanimously to find money in their district’s discretionary accounts to help lower the city’s debt.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had called on the council to turn over $40 million, but it voted to raise only $12 million, or $800,000 per district.

Repurposing the funds is tricky because some have federal sources.

City officials had originally called for the council to give up all the money from so-called AB 1290 funds. These come from property taxes paid by residents in areas slated for redevelopment; typically the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
Instead, the council decided that each member will have until March 11 to figure out how to come up with the money in their own districts.

Council member Herb Wesson says today’s action will make the process more fair, and council member Jan Perry said each member needed to take a realistic look at the projects in their districts. In her case, Perry knows that will mean tough choices.

The council will consider more budget proposals on Friday.

Fresh and Easy market opens in South L.A.

South Los Angeles has far fewer grocery stores than other areas of Los Angeles, making it tough for some residents to find healthy food in their neighborhoods.

That’s one of the reasons why lines stretched around the block Wednesday morning for the grand opening of a Fresh & Easy market at the intersection of Adams Boulevard and Central Avenue (appearances by Councilmember Jan Perry and the Jefferson High School Marching Band probably didn’t hurt, either).

And while the store was full of shoppers, the parking garage was nearly empty, giving a clue to why neighborhood groceries are so needed. Many residents seemed relieved to have an option closer to home.

The location is one of four stores being opened in California today by Fresh & Easy, the West Coast supermarket chain owned by Tesco. At about 10,000 square feet, it’s smaller than many supermarkets, and also has 80 affordable housing units built above it.

“This was actually one of the first sites we identified in Los Angeles, well over two years ago, so it’s been moving along,” said Roberto Munoz, the store’s director for neighborhood affairs.

The market is also employing some residents. It held a hiring event at a local YMCA in January where hundreds of people showed up, Munoz said, and is now employing about 20 of them.

Watch a video story about the Fresh & Easy opening from ATVN

Bill to help homeowners avoid foreclosure

California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and other assembly leaders joined Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles on Tuesday to push a bill that would help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The Monitored Mortgage Workout Program would force banks to meet with borrowers and a state-appointed mediator before foreclosing homes. Hear an audio report by Ariel Edwards Levy of Annenberg Radio News.

Around the Capitol Report on AB 1588