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Mar 12 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: March 12, 2012

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Los Angeles City Hall

Good Monday Morning!

The California Legislature is in session. Today’s schedule is here.

Noteworthy today is the California Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee’s hearing on Proposition 13.

That sizzle you hear today may come from Room 126 in the Capitol, where elected leaders and tax experts will touch the third rail of California politics, Proposition 13.

The Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee will hold a 1:30 p.m. oversight hearing examining whether the state should tighten rules defining when businesses must have their property reassessed.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, believes businesses take advantage of loopholes to save hundreds of millions of dollars. He is pursuing legislation, Assembly Bill 448, that would trigger more frequent reassessments of commercial property.

Besides Ammiano, others scheduled to testify include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone.

On to today’s California headlines:

California judges want to keep financial reports off the Web

For the past two years, California has required elected public officials — from county supervisors to state senators — to post their financial disclosure information on the Web.

But one group has avoided the requirement and is now resisting the regulation: California’s more than 1,700 judges. They say flinging their personal financial statements through cyberspace poses worrisome privacy and security risks that outweigh the public’s right to easy access to the records.

The issue will come to a head this week when the Fair Political Practices Commission considers whether to impose its 2010 regulation on the judiciary. The commission is expected to hear testimony from members of the California Judges Association, which has taken the lead in raising concerns about disclosing the data online.

Specifically, judges worry that angry litigants or families of those sentenced to prison may look to retaliate against them — and will turn to the Web for quick information that might make them easier targets.

“There is a concern about safety,” said San Diego Superior Court Judge David Rubin, president of the judges’ association. “Judges see people, typically half the courtroom, on a very bad day. Obviously, posting even a sanitized version of these (forms) significantly compromises the safety of judges and judges’ families.”

The judges, however, may have an uphill battle, as the information is already public and readily available to anyone at the local courthouse who asks for the forms, known as statements of economic interests. They contain everything from a judge’s financial holdings to a spouse’s stock investments and employment.


ENDORSEMENT WATCH: GOP backs Miller over Dutton

The California Republican Party has endorsed Rep. Gary Miller for San Bernardino County’s 31st Congressional District, in a major institutional boost for Miller’s quest to continue his congressional career in all-new territory.

The endorsement was among dozens made by the party’s 23-member board of directors during a special meeting Sunday in Burbank. Last Thursday, the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee deadlocked on an endorsement vote for the 31st.

Miller, R-Diamond Bar, and state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, are the top Republicans in a tentative six-person field for the June 5 primary election.


Dan Walters: Two tales of pension accounting

California’s big public pension funds also use discount rates, but they are in the 7.5 percent to 8 percent range. Unlike their corporate cousins, the public funds are not required by law to adjust them. Pension boards and public employee unions, not surprisingly, trumpet the fiction that high discount rates are realistic – exactly the opposite of the positions taken by private company unions in Washington, D.C.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System earned just 1.1 percent on investments in 2011, and its board has balked at suggestions from its own staff that it lower its discount rate by a quarter-point to 7.5 percent.

Studies by a Stanford University group concluded that were CalPERS and other public pension funds to use discount rates like those of corporate plans, it would increase their unfunded liabilities by hundreds of billions of dollars.

That would upset politicians, who would then feel compelled to increase pension fund contributions by many billions of dollars or enact reforms that would either reduce benefits or require employees to pay more. The unions labor mightily to kill even the mild reforms offered by the man they helped elect governor, Jerry Brown.

Underlying that posture is this simple, if disturbing, fact: Public pension systems can maintain artificially high discount rates only because they know that should real earnings fall short, taxpayers will be on the hook for the difference, without any recourse.

That’s a big hammer.

Doghouse designed by Frank lloyd Wright rebuilt for film

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The Fallingwater home in southwestern Pennsylvania. But a child’s doghouse?

Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of landmark buildings and homes during a prolific career that spanned more than seven decades. But in what is widely considered a first and only for the famed architect, Wright indulged a young boy’s humble request for a dog house in 1956 and sent him designs for the structure.

“I was probably his youngest client and poorest client,” Jim Berger, now 68, said during a recent phone interview.

Berger rebuilt the doghouse last year with his brother, using the original plans. It was featured in a documentary film and will be displayed during screenings starting this month.

Wright designed Berger’s family’s home in the Marin County town of San Anselmo, prompting the then-12 years old Berger to ask his dad if Wright would design a home for his black Labrador, Eddie.

Berger’s dad said he didn’t know, so Berger decided to write to the great architect himself.

“I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house…,” read the letter dated June 19, 1956. “(My dog) is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this doghouse is for the winters mainly.”

Berger explained that he would pay Wright from the money he made from his paper route.

“A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” Wright wrote back. But he said he was too busy at the time (construction on the Guggenheim began in 1956) and asked that Berger write him back in November.

Berger did so on the first of the month, and the plan for the doghouse followed — at no charge.

In this photo provided by Michael Miner, Jim Berger poses next to a dog house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on Oct. 21, 2011, in Glendale, Calif. (AP Photo/Alisse Gratehouse)

Enjoy your morning!

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