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Archive for 2009



Swap Meet: Jerry Probes Celeb Sex & Drug Secrets

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

jacksonScoop of the week: Green with envy kudos to the Chron’s irrepressible Carla Marinucci for her blog disclosure that AG Jerry Brown has insinuated his office into an investigation of the role of prescription drugs in the Michael Jackson case. In revealing that General Jerry has waded into what the tabs like to call your Jacko Death Probe, Ms. Carla managed to skillfully boost her Google Juice ratings by tossing in a couple of gratuitous links to Anna Nicole Smith.

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What the Whirling Dervish of Daily Journalism failed to report, however, is that the MJ Drug Deal is just one of many high profile, celeb legal matters being eyed by the once-and-future candidate for governor.  Breathing the rarefied air of political PR nirvana, Brown is poised to launch investigations into a half-dozen other has-been scandals and mysteries, sources close to our imagination told Calbuzz:

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Did OJ really search for the real killer? With Simpson safely on ice in Nevada, Brown’s crack  celebrity investigation team is focusing on allegations the broken-down jock broke interstate commerce laws by fraudulently accepting free greens fees, after telling golf course operators in multiple states his chief suspect was playing on their back nine.

Kate Moss and the missing flatware. Everybody knowskate_moss1A_300_400 that super-model Kate Moss used coke on a fashion shoot a few years back, but only Brown’s office has doggedly pursued the possibility of filing grand theft charges against Moss for allegedly leaving the scene with a spoon belonging to the on-location caterer stuck up her nose.

hasselhoffDid David Hasselhoff defame Wendy’s? Brown has long believed that law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions blundered by turning a blind eye to possible Product Disparagement civil law violations by burned-out Baywatch star David Hasselhoff, who was famously taped trying to get  his choppers around a Baconator while falling down drunk, a video that may have sent sales of the once-popular Wendy’s menu item plummeting.

Was Britney’s buzz cut legal? Acting on a tip from an britney_bald-431x300anonymous informant in the high-end L.A. cosmetology industry, Brown is reportedly close to filing charges against the pop princess for not reimbursing a Tarzana hair salon for the use of high speed clippers with which she whacked off all her hair a few years back. With interest, Brown investigators say, the tab by now may well be close to the mid-three figures.

david_duchovnyDavid Duchovny’s sex addiction scam. Brown’s undercover agents have developed confidential information that after “X Files” star Duchovny was released from rehab for sex addiction, he plotted to fleece and seduce thousands of gullible libertines by inviting them to join him in steamy sessions of a new, scam 12-step program.

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Paris Hilton, parking scofflaw. While Paris the Heiress paid her dues for her DUI, lawman Brown has developed evidence that since getting sprung from L.A. County lock-up, she’s failed to pay multiple parking tickets on her Hummer hybrid, including several violations for not curbing her wheels and, at least once, for leaving it on the wrong side on street cleaning day.

Lockyer channels Al Franken: Just when he seemed to be emerging as the only grown-up in Sacramento, Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s brain was seized by his inner adolescent and he jumped with both feet into the Capitol’s budget pie fight.

In an interview with the L.A. Times Sacramento bureau Lockyer suggested the way out of the mess was to pass two budgets – one for the enlightened libs of coastal California and one for the knuckle-draggers everywhere else:

lockyer“We’ll have the budget for the coast that has tax increases and services,” Lockyer told the Turgid Times.  “And in a bunch of other areas in Central and Southern California that don’t have tax increases … their public schools are closed a month of the year – and see what happens.”

“If people in Orange County aren’t going to vote for a state budget, I don’t know why you shouldn’t sell  [UC Irvine] to Google,” he said. “Why is there a DMV office in Riverside? Those folks ought to figure out how to go to L.A. at night to renew their driver’s license.”

At a time when Lockyer’s loyal fans are fanning flames of speculation about him making a late entry into the governor’s race by occupying the considerable space in the moderate middle, his sudden left turn lurch in trashing half of California’s population as a bunch of know-nothings is baffling; that Lockyer is the guy who has to go out and sell California bonds to a bunch of Wall Street suits who find the state’s fiscal crisis less than amusing makes his Alfred E. Newman act even more inexplicable.

eMeg’s Mixed Message: While Meg Whitman’s spin meginchairposse is busy trumpeting her $6.5 million fundraising haul as evidence that she’s connecting with Real Voters, her web site still tells another, very different tale: that her Megness lives in terror of sitting down to answer questions from California reporters who understand state issues.

On her home page, the “Meg in the News” feature lists these four media interviews:

– CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer: Former eBay CEO wants Arnold’s job
– The Weekly Standard: eMeg: eBay Republican Meg Whitman bids to save California
– The Wall Street Journal: Whitman lays out plan to solve California’s fiscal woes
– FORTUNE: Can Meg Whitman save California?

All Politico All the Time: Big week for Politico, the Beltway obsessive’s best online friend, which scored a trifecta of triumphs. First, Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff abandoned his normal cranky skepticism in a fluffy profile that declares the throwback journalism guys who launched Politico “may have solved the future of news.”

Next, a few days before Sarah Palin’s abrupt resignation as Alaska governor, Politico’s Jonathan Martin chronicled the cat fight of the year which broke out between always-wrong-from-the-right bloviator Bill Kristol and California consultant Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s failed presidential effort; the brawl followed publication of a 10,000 word takedown of Palin in Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum, aka Mr. Dee Dee Myers.

Then Politico scored again with a very cool story by Michael Falcone that put the recent sexcapades of Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. John Ensign into political cultural context by recounting how they’re just two of a number among the Republican congressional class of 1994 to have fallen considerably short of the moral superiority values preached by that “Take Back America” crowd.

Best Calbuzz wishes for a happy 4th of July.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

Still Gasping After Palin’s Wacko Step-Down Presser

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

palin winkCalbuzz has seen a lot of weird stuff in politics before, but Sarah Palin’s mouth-breathing stream of semi-consciousnesses — with water fowl, no less — was right up there with the strangest of them.

After serving all of two and a half years as governor, Palin has decided it would be “apathetic to hunker down and go with the flow” whatever the fig that means. So she’s stepping down to work “on the outside” (i.e. make a boatload of money as a celebrity speaker without pesky ethics investigators rummaging through her Naughty Monkeys).

Rumors abound in Alaska that federal investigators are looking at some connections between the Wasilla sports complex and the construction of Palin’s home. But Palin’s only explanation Friday was to suggest that keeping her job would be a waste of Alaskans’ tax money. WTF?

We’d love to hear your favorite riff. Ours was: “A good point guard, here’s what she does. She drives through a full court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win and that is what I’m doing…keeping our eye on the ball…I know when it’s time to pass the ball for victory.”

No more politics as usual in Seward’s Icebox, promises the Alaskan Trailer Trash Queen.

Why Constitutional Convo Must Consider Prop 13

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Mark_Paul280x350By Mark Paul
Special to Calbuzz

In the life of every would-be California reformer, there inevitably comes the gut-check moment. You give your best rap about the ungovernability of the state — the unbalanced budgets, the legislature gridlocked by supermajority voting requirements, the dysfunctional state-local relationship, the schools and cities run more for the benefit of their unionized employees than the public.

And then a reporter sidles up to you and asks, “So, are you talking about changing Prop 13?”

If politics is your only measure, the answer is obvious. Prop 13 is the best brand in the state. To the homeowners who make up the core of the state’s electorate, the phrase “Prop 13” means one thing, and one thing only: low and certain property taxes. If you had a choice, the phrase would never pass your lips.

But if your goal is to make California governable again by restoring fiscal sanity and political accountability, there’s no way to avoid Prop 13. The 1978 Jarvis-Gann measure is not just a property tax limitation. It’s the hack that rewrote California’s operating system in ways that make it unworkable and unloved across the political spectrum.

A case in point: A few years back, Tom McClintock, the former legislator who’s taken his lance to Congress to tilt at bigger windmills, stopped by the Sacramento Bee and launched into a soliloquy describing how power had flowed away from cities, counties, and school districts, which know their own needs and people best, to distant Sacramento and the state Capitol. After a couple moments, I interrupted. “Senator, I think we’re prepared to stipulate that Proposition 13 was a bad idea.”

We all laughed, but everyone understood it wasn’t a joke. By slashing local property tax revenues, putting up higher barriers for local passage of taxes and bonds, and giving the Legislature the responsibility to divvy up remaining property tax dollars, Prop 13 was the great centralizer. It forced the state to take a primary responsibility for funding services formerly controlled closer to home.

As a result, the big decisions about things like schools get made in Sacramento and on the statewide ballot, not at the school board. It has made government opaque, inflexible, and unaccountable. By separating the responsibility for taxing and spending, it has opened the way for public employee unions––teachers, cops, firefighters––to dominate local politics and drive up their pay and pensions.

Another case in point: The current Commission on the 21st Century Economy, which is looking at how to modernize California’s tax system and reduce the swings in revenue. It’s been comical to watch the commission try to avoid the obvious: that a lot of the volatility in California’s tax system is a result of having deeply cut relative stable property taxes (both through Prop 13 and the slashing of the vehicle license fee), leaving it more dependent on sales and income taxes that swing with the business cycle.

If it were prepared to treat Prop 13 as just another policy, and not a religious icon, the commission might be considering relying more on property taxes, particularly on land, while reducing taxes on work and investment, the kind of pro-growth option upon which both liberal and conservative economists would agree.

Prop 13 wasn’t the product of great deliberation or foresight. James Madison and the boys didn’t draft it after weeks of high-minded discussion about checks and balances. It was ginned up by cagey old Howard Jarvis to put before voters a measure so simple — 1 percent rate, 2 percent annual cap on assessment increases — that it would pass where more complex property tax measures had failed.

Were it not for the inaction three decades ago of a feckless governor and a divided Legislature stymied by supermajority vote requirements, California might easily have found a way, as other states did, to protect homeowners against inflation-driven property tax bills without making state government unworkable. Voters didn’t approve Prop 13 because they thought it was a good idea to shift power to Sacramento; they approved it because it was the first chance they had to protect themselves and their investment in their homes.

No one wants to remove those protections. But there’s no way to make the big reforms California needs — getting rid of two-third rules, restoring accountability, shifting power out of Sacramento and back to communities — without jettisoning Prop 13’s excess baggage.

Mark Paul, senior scholar and deputy director of the California program at the New America Foundation, was formerly deputy editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee and deputy treasurer of California under Phil Angelides.

Just In: Kennedy Whacks Davis, More on Gov Money

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

kennedycigarNasty Ringer from inside the Horseshoe: So Calbuzz is reading along Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal’s slobber job on Gov. Arnold’s COS Susan Kennedy and suddenly — KABOOM! — she smacks her former patron Gray Davis upside the head with a crowbar:

“Gray Davis would still be governor today if he had the chops [i.e. “balls”] to stand up to the unions and if the Democrats weren’t so pig-headed and owned by the special interests,” said the diminutive cigar-chomping Ms. Kennedy.

This, from a putative Democrat who owes her job to Davis, who made her his cabinet secretary, deputy chief of staff and then put her on the PUC. Kennedy is no press rookie either — having been communications chief for US Sen. Dianne Feinstein before going to work for Davis in 1999.

Kennedy also knows – as well as anyone – that while the CCPOA, CTA and AFL-CIO all had their hooks into Davis (and her), had it not been for Enron and the energy crisis, Davis never would have lost his job.

We tried to get a reaction from Davis but he wouldn’t bite. “I’m not going there,” he insisted. gray-davis“I’m a senior statesman now. I don’t get into disputes.”

An associate of his at Loeb and Loeb in LA, however, said Kennedy sent an email apology to Davis. And a friend of Kennedy’s in Sacramento said she had been trying to aim her fire at the unions (who had made life difficult for the penny-pinching Davis) and felt terrible that she shot her former boss in the face instead.

As long as we had Davis on the phone, we asked him if he wasn’t feeling just a little bit of schadenfreude watching Gov. Schwarzenegger try to handle the budget he so loudly pledged to streamline.

Again, he wouldn’t take the bait. “I don’t take any glee in seeing the difficulty Californians are facing,” Davis said. But, he noted, “It’s abundantly clear that just because you change governors you don’t change the financial condition of the state.”

megcrop1The Meg and Jerry Show: The preliminary numbers on first round fund-raising are in and, as expected, Meg Whitman is dominating the GOP Money Primary, reporting contributions of $6.5 million in the first five months of her campaign. That amount is in addition to $4 million she has donated herself.

The numbers reported by the campaign do not make it clear how much she has spent, with what appears to a much higher overhead operation than any of her rivals, nor does it say how much eMeg has in the bank.

Our Monday post on the Money Primary offered some caveats about over-interpreting Whitman’s big haul, but by any measure it’s an impressive effort by a rookie candidate, and her spin posse took full advantage, quoting campaign chairman Pete Wilson: “There is no more certain measure of enthusiasm for a candidate than heavy early campaign contributors.”

Republican foe Steve Poizner reported raising $1.2 million to date, and pointedly noted that most of his contributions were $100 or less in contrasting his strategic approach to that of Megabucks Meg, a fellow member of the uber-wealth club.

” “Our campaign has focused heavily on generating support at the grassroots level from hard-working California voters and these numbers reflect our success in earning that support,” the  insurance commissioner said in a release. “We will have the funds needed to communicate our message throughout the state, from now to the primary and beyond.”

Republican Tom Campbell, who’ll spend the campaign with his nose to the windows of the counting houses of his two party rivals, said he had raised just under $500,000, had no debts and about $300,000 cash on hand.

As we reported yesterday, General Jerry’s $7.4 million haul exceeded expectations, and dwarfed the $1.6 million raised by Gavin Newsom, who joined Poizner in talking up the number of small donors who’d given him cash.

But here’s a worry for Newsom: He has thus far raised $2.8 million and reported $1.1 million cash on hand. If our Calbuzzer math is right, that would mean he has spent $1.7 million –- or about 60% of his money raised. Yow, that burns.

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Times Weighs In: On the other hand, Gavin Hood cops the cover photo of this Sunday’s New York Times magazine, featuring Mark Leibovich’s 8,300 word situationer on the California governor’s race.

Leibovich, formerly of the SJ Mercury News, is a graceful writer and a fine reporter, and his piece provides a solid one-stop fill, bristling with good quotes and anecdotes, about where the 2010 race stands, at least for that small handful of Californians who have inexplicably failed to follow Calbuzz in recent months.

At first glance, Newsom comes off as the big winner of the piece, both because of the Nixon Redux, guy-on-the-beach-in-a-suit photo that graces the cover, and because the San Francisco mayor is also the entry point into the Times story.

“Newsom sees the job of governor as a potentially exhilarating high-wire act,” Leibovich writes. “’We’re in a moment of crisis that requires order-of-magnitude change, dramatic change,’ he told me. ‘Candidly, if things were going very well, I don’t think I’d be the best person for the job.’”

But Newsom’s political vulnerabilities, from his Prince Gavin sense of entitlement to his unease in discussing the adulterous affair he had with a top aide’s wife several years ago, also clearly come through.

“There is indeed about Newsom something of that quintessential California type, the overgrown and hyperactive child,” the piece reports. “Immensely gifted but flawed, he is a jumble of self-regard, self-confidence and self-immolation – potential greatness and a potential train wreck in the same metrosexual package.”

Leibo interviewed all of the contenders, as well as Gov. Arnold, and the up-close-and-personal treatment he affords each of them is worth the price of admission.

From Jerry Brown’s recounting of receiving advice from the Big Dick (“’Richard Nixon once said to me, ‘Don’t peak too soon,’” Brown said) and the tiresome sameness of Meg Whitman’s cipher campaign (“All of her campaign events appear to be held in the exact same ballroom, whether they are in a Radisson, a Hyatt or a Doubletree”) to Steve Poizner’s bummer-dude manner (“On behalf of Californians, I apologize to the rest of the country”) and Tom Campbell’s terminally earnest hopefulness (“Campbell said that a large field of candidates will help him”), the Timesman offers telling glimpses behind the masks of the candidates.

IOU an explanation: Amid the thousands of dead trees sacrificed to reports that the state has started issuing IOUs’, the most valuable piece of journalism has been offered not by the political press corps but by Chronicle business columnist Kathleen Pender.

You can find Pender’s smart Q&A about the IOU situation here

Why the King of Pop Can’t Be Buried at Neverland

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

michael-jackson-neverlandBy William Etling
Special to Calbuzz

Hotel rooms sold out in the sleepy Santa Ynez Valley Tuesday, as the world’s press corps descended in pursuit of rumors about Michael Jackson’s burial, viewing, memorial service and/or museum in and around his former Neverland Ranch.

As Santa Barbara County officials reportedly met about a local service for Jackson on Friday, fervid fans pushed a much hotter rumor – that he would be buried at Neverland, which would then become the site of a Graceland-like museum, one of the late pop star’s fondest dreams.

However, the illustrious patriarch of the Jackson clan, Joe Jackson, said Michael would not be buried there, and Don Loper, director for the Loper Funeral Chapel in nearby Ballard, had a succinct answer to the question.

“No,” said Loper, explaining that, legally, only ranches with grandfathered personal cemeteries may be used to bury remains. Of course, ashes could be scattered anywhere.

neverlandaerialThe possibility of a Jackson museum put Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, elected on a slow-growth platform, on the political hot seat, caught between music fans and her pro-green supporters. Speculation about a Jackson museum ignored one King Kong-sized if prosaic issue, however: zoning.

The ranch is five miles from the tiny wine tasting town of Los Olivos, where “Sideways” was filmed, out in the middle of fields and farms.

Santa Ynez Valley residents have spent the better part of a decade on a simple update of their existing community plan. After all that effort, and some riotous meetings, the final product is not much different from the prior plan, and it says that agriculture is ag, downtown is downtown, and never the twain shall meet.

The ranch formerly known as Neverland (the new owners call it Sycamore Valley Ranch) is zoned agricultural. Legally, it takes a Conditional Use Permit to apply for a commercial enterprise on ag land.

Brooks Firestone, the wealthy, connected former Assembly member and ex-Supervisor, who started Firestone Winery and is the scion of the tire fortune, abandoned an attempt to get a conditional use permit to hold weddings at his Foxen Canyon property near Neverland in 2008. The votes just weren’t there for it.

Tom Barrack, who bought Neverland for $35 million in November of 2008 through his company Colony Capital and lives nearby, was mauled by his Happy Canyon neighbors when he asked to open a winery recently. He eventually got approval to make wine, but easy public access was negotiated away.

Even affable octogenarian Fess Parker (Disney’s Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and the dad in Old Yeller) was politically pummeled by locals when he wanted to plant a resort amid the vineyards in 2004. The Fess Fuss even made The Wall Street Journal.

In this vigilant valley, commerce and cows don’t mix, which is why Supervisor Farr said in an interview that protecting agriculture may trump any plans for a Michael Jackson museum.

etlingJournalist William Etling, the author of  “Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley,” was interviewed about Michael Jackson this week by CNN, the London Times, French radio, Rolling Stone, USA Today, KABC-TV, and some newspaper in South Carolina, among others.