Archive for 2009

LAPD-Hollywood Feud Clouds Tony V’s Bid For Gov

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

The Big Squeeze: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is caught between an LAPD rock and a Hollywood hard place, as cops and movie crews battle over security costs for Tinsel Town location shoots.

The boulder up against Hizzoner’s backside is Police Chief William J. Bratton, who wants to boot uniformed retired officers who provide film-set security in favor of active, off-duty LA cops, who would be accountable to his commanders — and paid nearly double the going rate.

Pressure on the other cheek comes from the financially-struggling film industry, reeling from the recession and record low numbers of on-location TV and film shootings in LA. They say Chief Bratton’s proposal – on which Villaraigosa has stayed decidedly mum – will make it even less attractive for film crews to shoot in L.A., worsening the problem of runaway production.

As he weighs a run for governor, Antonio Alcalde faces a possible political embarrassment no matter which side he favors in the feud: How would it look if he launched a campaign without full backing of his own chief? And what kind of LA mayor wades into a governor’s race without big time Hollywood support?

When Calbuzz started asking questions about the dispute, Villaraigosa’s press people hemmed, hawed and scurried around for two days to come up with some answers, and finally told us late Friday the mayor is hoping to work out a compromise. But retired cops have had the sweet gig for location security services for half-a-century, and it looks to us like the mayor risks honking off either the film industry – which has rallied around the ex-officers — or the LAPD and Bratton, who argues that the incumbent retirees are not accountable.

As far as we can tell, nobody has looked at how this issue might affect Tony V if he runs for governor. The LA Times has been following the issue as a business story and, to some degree, as a local labor beef between the LAPD and the coalition of labor and industry groups, That includes the Teamsters and the Motion Picture Association of America, who are fighting to keep things as they’ve been for the last 50 years. As Nikki Finke has noted in Deadline Hollywood Daily, Film LA is peeved that the movie-cop issue remains unstuck.

Location cops now make about $50 an hour. Under Bratton’s proposal, if the studios want to keep cops in LAPD uniforms, they’d have to pay time-and-a-half plus a 14% administrative fee — which adds up to $80-$100 an hour, according to Gene Patterson, secretary of the Motion Picture Officers Association.

“The mayor doesn’t have to be caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Marilyn Bitner of Plan A Locations, a company that brokers residential and commercial sites to the film industry: “If you drive out production, you’re losing resources that fund the police,” she told Calbuzz. “I don’t know why the mayor won’t weigh in”

Bitner and other LA sources also told us Villaraigosa has only a perfunctory relationship with the film industry, which may help explain why it took Villaraigosa’s political consultants and LA press people two full days to explain where he stands on the issue.

We got bounced from one staff person to another until spokeswoman Janelle Erickson finally told us: “The mayor enjoys a very close relationship with the film and entertainment industry in LA. It’s always a priority in the mayor’s office to support an industry that creates jobs.”

According to Erickson, Villaraigosa is working on a “compromise” that would allow retired cops to continue location work, but not in their LAPD uniforms. There’s the rub: retired cops and filmmakers we spoke to said that’s no compromise at all. Unless movie cops look like real LAPD officers, they say, there’s no way they can command the authority needed to secure a film site.

“You can’t stop traffic and run interference if you look like a mall security guard,” said Peterson, a retired detective supervisor with 37 years in the LAPD.

Erickson referred us to the Director’s Guild of America where spokeswoman Sahar* Moridani, offered this lukewarm comment: “We’ve always enjoyed and appreciated the open access and the support we’ve received from the mayor’s office.”

It is true that Villaraigosa enjoyed financial support in his re-elect from high-end names in the entertainment world like Spielberg, Geffen, Katzenberg, Hanks, Reiner, Streisand et. al. But they aren’t the ones on the front lines of this fight.

“He may have a relationship with the Steven Spielbergs of the world,” Bitner said, “but he doesn’t have a relationship with the working industry – the people below the line,” referring to location managers, line producers, camera, set and design crews, plus the large number of others who work on location.

So who’s Villaraigosa gonna pick — the working film industry or the chief? As one L.A. media pal of ours put it: “Kind of your classic lady or the tiger.”

*Oops — in the original we called her Sarah. Sorry.

Furthermore: Since our original post, we caught another look at the issue on Sharon Waxman’s “The Wrap”

Five Questions with Merv Field

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Mervin Field is the pioneering founder of the Field Poll, an independent, nonpartisan, public opinion survey that has tracked every state election in California since 1948. The man insiders call “The Swami” kindly took time to answer some Calbuzz questions.

Calbuzz: What do you make of Jerry Brown’s effort to become the first guy to be elected governor again, when he’s twice as old as the first time he won?

Merv Field: Jerry Brown is reasonably well positioned to be elected governor in 2010. If Dianne Feinstein does not run, then Brown and Antonio Villaraigosa move up in position. I think then that the chances for either winning the nomination is 50-50. Newsom’s odds improve but are still relatively long.

Brown wears his age well. As a campaigner he doesn’t look much different than when he first ran for office in 1968. He certainly will not appear to be an old codger trying to win back his old job. The negatives he acquired as governor (1975-1982) will be issues in the campaign among old-timers and perhaps some of the newer voters. However, I can see him campaigning this way:

“I was first elected governor when I was 36. I accomplished a lot of things (also admitting to some failures). I have learned a lot since then — being a mayor, AG, etc. I have witnessed all the changes, been active in dealing with them and am now uniquely equipped to deal with the huge problems facing the state.”

CB: What’s with the Curse of Sunny Jim Rolph? Why do mayors have such a hard time getting elected governor, and what does it portend for Gavin Newsom and Villaraigosa?

MF: There were different conditions in each of the unsuccessful gubernatorial candidacies in California of former mayors of big cities, along with some similarities. Their tenures as mayors split their constituencies. Dealing with local problems gets more attention locally, where failures are well reported, then resurrected when running for governor. Local problems have inordinate effects on voters. Mayors, not governors, deal with potholes.

Also, as far as S.F. and L.A. are concerned, voters in either place don’t identify with the other. There has been and still exists a somewhat ill-defined rivalry — if not animosity — between residents of the two cities. Plus, there’s animosity between residents of the big cities and adjacent cities and suburbs. Both Villaraigosa and Newsom will face this problem.

CB: With their huge personal wealth, do Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have an overwhelming advantage in the governor’s race?

MF: Money will help in getting attention, but it is problematic whether the reaction of the voters will be positive. Wealthy candidates without accomplishments in government feed the desire of voters to know more about them. They also invite a lot of scrutiny from the press digging into their lives. The negative media play about wealthy, new-to-the-public candidates, from former business associates, ex-spouses, school friends, etc. has a great and lasting effect on voter opinions during a relatively short campaign.

Whitman presumably has to run on the basis of being a successful business person (or personality) ready to straighten out the mess in Sacramento. But I don’t think that message will have as much resonance as it did in 2003 when Arnold used it successfully. And like Al Checchi and Bill Simon earlier — it may also have some repellent aspects in 2010.

I don’t know about Poizner. He just got elected Insurance Commissioner in 2006, so he has not yet made a mark in public office. By next year, he probably still will be viewed essentially as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. If the GOP continues to be fractured, that’s not going to help. If the primary consists of expensive personal attack ads then the winner’s chances in November are diminished.

Any credibility that successful business people might have had as competent leaders has been collapsed with the news about Detroit automakers, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Wall Street, banks, etc.

CB: Tom Campbell is arguably the most qualified Republican who’s not bloody likely to win his party’s nomination for governor. Do you see anything on the political horizon that will enable moderate Republicans to become competitive again?

MF: I don’t see a moderate like Campbell getting the GOP nomination. It’s going to take a long time before moderate Republicans can be competitive again in California. The proportion of Republican voters has been steadily declining statewide for some time, and the public has become less inclined to react positively to messages of the national and state GOP parties. Republicans can still elect office holders in gerrymandered districts but not regularly beyond that.

The chances of moderate Republicans becoming more potent may occur if the promised reapportionment reform comes into being. The proving ground for moderate GOP candidates aiming for higher office will become more fruitful if they can start and get elected in legislative districts that are more evenly balanced.

CB: Imagine the unthinkable: that Calbuzz got it wrong and Dianne Feinstein does run for governor. Do you think she would be as formidable as the polls make her out, or would the liberal netroots questions about her husband’s finances and her long absence from state politics combine to make her campaign strongest on the day she declared?

MF: If Feinstein runs she would face the problems you list. I agree with your inference that she would be at the peak of her popularity when she announces her candidacy. But if she announces before the other Democrats get too far in their campaigns I think she would still win the nomination. If she doesn’t have to face an inordinately scathing primary, she would be quite formidable against either Whitman or Poizner, with the odds in her favor.

If Feinstein really has her heart in running and being elected governor, her life-long desire, she would have to be considered the favorite in winning the Democratic nomination. However, I am beginning to be one of those political bystanders who believes that she won’t run. She’ll be 77 in 2010. Based on my perception of how voters perceive the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate, that age would be a handicap for a man running for high office and a larger handicap for a woman.

Poizner Attack on Whitman Was Negative but NOT Dirty

Friday, April 17th, 2009

There are strategic and tactical reasons to question whether it’s a smart move for Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner to attack former eBay CEO Meg Whitman this early in the Republican primary race for governor. But Poizner’s fusillade was NOT dirty.

You can call it negative, tough, slashing, brutal, whatever, but we strongly disagree with this characterization on the very fine SacB site Capitol Alert: “With still more than 400 days until votes are cast, the GOP primary for governor is already starting to get dirty.”

No it’s not. Dirty is where you lie about your opponent, use below-the-belt personal information, make unfair charges, distort their record, etc. We don’t like dirty campaigning and when we see it, we’ll throw a red flag. But by holding Whitman’s leadership at eBay up to scrutiny, Poizner has done nothing dirty. It’s especially appropriate when a candidate comes out of the business world — and Poizner’s business background is fair game, too — because that’s the candidate’s record.

A political campaign for governor of California is not a dinner party. It’s a rough and tumble affair in which candidates should not be demonized by goody-twoshoes, holier-than-thou commentary or news reports. People are so cynical about politics already and it’s so easy to use a charge of “dirty campaigning” in a TV ad, that it’s important for those of us on the sidelines to make distinctions between dirty and slimy campaign tactics and legitimate, tough, negative campaigning.

We’re just sayin’.

Friday Fishwrap: Squishy, Dishy, Always Fishy

Friday, April 17th, 2009

When Prop. 1A hit man Peter Foy opened a can of whupass on wannabe governors Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman this week, his cruelest cut was calling them “squishy” on taxes.

The charge leveled by the GOP Ventura County supe, who’s toying with a run against the two objects of his ire, resurrected one of the most heinous ad hominem labels one Republican can tag on another. While using the adjectival “squishy” is, well, a little bit squishy, calling someone a “squish” is the GOP equivalent of trash talking someone’s mother in gangsta circles.

In a wide-ranging investigation including a couple of Google searches, multiple emails and an actual long distance phone call, the Calbuzz Linguistic Desk spared no expense in its effort to shed light on the origin and usage of the term.

“Very good question,” said Ken Khachigian, California’s dean of Republican wordsmiths. “I can’t honestly recall when it entered my vocabulary, though I’m sure I’ve used it frequently.”

Khachigian, who made his bones working in Dick Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, added that “using the word ‘squish’ is almost always in the context of questioning someone’s level of commitment or strength.”

Wiktionary defines a squish as a “political moderate (derogatory term used by conservative activists in the 1980s),” while conservative think tanker and journalist Amy Ridenour blogged this recollection on the web site of the National Center for Public Policy Research:

“’Squish’ was in frequent use in the College Republican National Committee office when I worked there in 1981 and elsewhere in conservative circles during the era. There was a much firmer line of demarcation back then within the GOP between conservatives and moderates (ed: that’s because there still were GOP moderates in 1981)

“Examples of prominent (perceived) ‘squishes’ circa 1981: Vice President George H.W. Bush, James Baker III,” Ridenour wrote. “I recall Baker being seen as the invisible hand behind many, many a squishie plot.”

In advance of the 2006 mid-term elections, a top (George W.) Bushman in the Justice Department used the phrase to ding Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., in an email that argued against extending campaign aid to the congressman’s re-election effort; the email was uncovered in one of L.A. Dem Rep. Henry Waxman’s probes of political chicanery at the Bush White House.

“My two cents,” Roveian hatchet man Kyle Sampson wrote at the time, “I wouldn’t choose a sort of weird, maverick squish . . . to team up with.”

But senior statesman Khachigian traces the possible derivation of squish much further back, at least to his first Nixon campaign: “Your younger readers won’t have any connection with one possible progenitor of the word, but back in the ’68 presidential race (yes, I was there), Ted Agnew accused Hubert Humphrey of being ‘squishy soft on communism.’”

Update: An email early Friday from William Safire, political lexicographer, famed columnist and ex-Nixon speech writer, buttresses Khachigian’s theorem: “It was popularized by Vice President Agnew in the 1970 mid-term elections as ‘squishy soft,” Safire says . . .

You can only pick one, Gavin: Scrolling through Gavin Newsom’s web site the other day put us in mind of the famous New Yorker cartoon in which an exasperated Charles Dickens sits in the office of his editor, who tells him: “I wish you would make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It could scarcely be both.”

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Newsom’s version: “Mayor Newsom has organized an exploratory committee for Governor as an initial and technical requirement to begin organizing a potential campaign. Mayor Newsom has organized an exploratory committee so he can make the decision about a campaign for governor from a position of knowledge and strength.”

Brown outtakes, Take 1: At one point in Calbuzz’s recent interview with Jerry Brown, he spoke wistfully about maybe settling down on “a nice ranch that’s been in the family” for generations, near Colusa. So we asked him why the hell, at the age of 71, didn’t he just pack it in and kick back there with the lovely Lady Anne.

“That’s a good question,” he answered, before a rare pause. “You know something, and the more you do it, the better you get at it, and you derive a certain pleasure from it.” . . .

That’s -30-: Ex-Sacbeeman, the Rev. Jim Richardson, has started a blog for folks to leave their memories of the late, great LA Timesman Jerry Gillam. The blog is here if you want to leave a comment. Or you can email your recollections and photos for posting to Jim at revjimr@yahoo.com

California Economy Will Slide Without Huge Boost in College Grads

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

By Tanya Schevitz
Calbuzz Education Correspondent

California faces a shortage of nearly one million college-educated workers by 2025 that will further devastate its economy unless education leaders act quickly to boost college graduation rates, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California report. Without these workers, employers will abandon the state in large numbers while start-ups will shun the state, the researchers said.

The report, “Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates,” notes that California already ranks low nationally in the percentage of its population with college degrees. The state is likely to slip further, at a time when well-educated Baby Boomers are retiring and populations of demographic groups with traditionally low college attendance rates are soaring, PPIC researchers Hans Johnson and Ria Sengupta reported.

Doom and gloom reports about California’s education system are a dime a dozen, but what makes this one different is that Johnson set forth a series of reasonable and measured steps to address it.

Far from the usual white paper call for huge new spending initiatives in education, the PPIC report offers a practical agenda for chipping away at a major problem, while acknowledging that sweeping new investments are unlikely at a time of economic turmoil, budget shortfalls and ever-increasing costs, with public universities and colleges already increasing class sizes and slashing student support systems.

Some of the state’s most skeptical education policy experts applauded the proposals in the report.

“None of this is rocket science,” Steve Boilard, director of higher education for the Legislative Analyst’s office, told Calbuzz, adding that he was uncharacteristically impressed by the report and its suggestions. “What we have to do is have a more productive education system.”

For example, the researchers said, raising the state’s college attendance rates slightly, from 56 to 61 percent, and modestly increasing transfer rates to four year universities would boost the number of college educated workers by 500,000 a year by 2025. Even more importantly, universities must improve their success rates with students they already have; raising the graduation rates of current students would yield major results to help head off the migration of jobs elsewhere, Johnson said.

In another recommendation, PPIC found that many students accepted into the 23-campus California State University are simply unprepared for college study. As a result, CSU in recent years has given an early placement exam to provide students a heads-up that they need more preparation before enrolling. This and related programs could help boost CSU’s graduation rate enough to yield an additional 200,000 graduates by 2025, benefiting employers and California’s battered economy.

Noting there are 1.6 million students in the community college system, researcher Johnson said even a modest increase in transfer rates could make a big difference. After years of hand wringing and little action in this area, and against a backdrop of steady reductions in transfer slots and cuts in programs like counseling, there are signs that higher ed officials are beginning to address the problem:

Although UC reduced overall freshman enrollment this year, the system added 500 seats earmarked for transfer students, while CSU has worked to bring more rationality to its confusing system of determining which community college courses are eligible for CSU credit. Also, all three higher ed systems recently established a taskforce to craft strategies for increasing the numbers of transfer students.

While the policy prescriptions seem relatively easy and straightforward, getting them enacted is quite a different matter.

Said the analyst Boilard: “It really just is having the political will.”

Tanya Schevitz is a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who uncovered widespread abuse in the University of California’s compensation and disclosure practices while on the higher education beat. Her investigative reporting resulted in significant changes in university policies and practices.