Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Every Great Writer Will One Day Meet The Single Great Subject That Will Define Them Forever. For Mary McNamara That Subject Is - Heidi 4 Paws

When Mary McNamara was unexpectedly 'demoted' from the book review section to reviewing... TV shows.... it seemed that a great writing career was suddenly stillborn.

Well... not necessarily the case. Because you can peruse the annals of literature from the Greeks onward and never find the opportunities that lie in critiquing.... "Heidi 4 Paws".

Review: 'Heidi 4 Paws'
Let's pause to reflect on the effect of dressed-up dogs retelling the beloved orphan-in-the-Alps tale.
By MARY McNAMARA
Television Critic

December 20, 2008

There is nothing in this life to prepare a person to review “Heidi 4 Paws,” which premieres on KCET Sunday morning.

When my editor handed it to me with a gleam in her eye, she said: "It's Heidi. With dogs." I was confused. Did Heidi Klum have a new reality show involving dogs? Had Heidi Montag snagged a canine Christmas special?

"No, it's the story 'Heidi.' With dogs."

I began to feel bovine in my incomprehension. "Heidi" with dogs instead of goats?

"No, the dogs play all the characters."

Including, it must be added, the goats.

And there it is. "Heidi 4 Paws" is a live-action retelling of Johanna Spyri’s classic tale of an orphan sent to live with her cantankerous grandfather high in the Swiss Alps -- with dogs in all the roles. Dogs in kerchiefs and Swiss frocks, dogs in alpine hats and canine approximations of lederhosen, dogs in wigs and spectacles and, yes, little Clara's wheelchair.

Having said that, we can now watch as the world instantly divides. Into those who find dogs in dress-up charming and adorable and those who consider it a crime against the natural order of things. If you are a member of the former group, then this is the film for you. The costumes are exquisite, the dogs wear them well.

Some of us, however, fall into the latter category. I have nothing against live-action animal films -- I think "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" cleaned up at the box office simply because it was a darn good movie -- but I believe the only person who should put clothing on dogs is William Wegman, and then not always.

It's a difficult prejudice to put aside in this case, especially since the poor mutt playing Miss Rottenmeier is forced to wear shoes -- shoes! -- but it is a prejudice not shared by everyone, and so we move on.

"Heidi 4 Paws" is the dreamchild of successful screenwriter Holly Goldberg Sloan ("Angels in the Outfield," "Made in America"), which explains the name talent, including Angela Lansbury, Steve Guttenberg and Julian Sands, who provide some of the voices. Sloan, as she recently blogged on the Huffington Post, spent the last five years melding her twin obsessions with dogs and "Heidi."

This answers the first wild-eyed question that springs to mind when "Heidi 4 Paws" opens with three dogs on a train. Why on Earth would anyone think to do this? Not, apparently, to create an instant camp classic, although this may be the end result, but because she wanted to make a children's film incorporating her twin obsessions with dogs and "Heidi." Next question.

And there are many more, including why do Detie (Joanne Baron) and Grandpapa (Richard Kind) sound like they are from Long Island and Brooklyn, respectively? Was it really necessary to have the doggy versions of Peter the Goatherder (Sands) and Heidi (Meghan Strange) yodel? How come the "goats" look like little Martians, and will plush versions of them be available in time for Christmas? What is it about Angela Lansbury's voice that makes even a dog in a Grandmama wig seem comforting and wise?

There are things to recommend "Heidi 4 Paws" (honestly, I cannot write this title often enough) beyond the obvious you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it appeal.

On Huffington, Sloan apologizes for the "homemade" appearance of the dogs' moving mouths, but the special effects, though not up to feature film standards, are pretty good. Though clearly not filmed on location, the production value all around is high.

Sloan's script, meanwhile, is very smart, a faithful retelling of the "Heidi" tale down to the devotion to goat's milk and cheese, yet with enough snappy modern flourishes to temper the saccharine tone of the original and keep young audiences watching. "Why do you have nothing?" asks the Grandpapa when Heidi arrives on his doorstep. "Maybe because I'm an orphan?" she answers. It's a great line, and the yellow lab puppy playing Heidi really nails it.

Still there is a definite homespun quality to "Heidi 4 Paws," a let's-put-on-a-show jocularity to much of the dialogue and its delivery, which is both charming and slightly off-putting, as if the viewer had just opened the wrong door at a party and found the talented but undeniably eccentric sister sitting on the floor playing dress-up with her dogs.

You see how difficult this is to explain. Best watch it for yourself. I guarantee you've never seen anything like it on television. And these days, that's saying something.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

Monday, December 29, 2008

Two Amazing Photos By Luis Sinco And Lori Shepler In Today's LA Times Piece On USC Quarterback Mark Sanchez!

Both photos are reminiscent of Rubens at his most exuberant heights with their management of controlled chaos. And even by the exceptionally high standards of LA Times photographers - these two photos stand out. The story by Kevin Baxter is also excellent, marred only by the sad fact that no one at the LA Times has even the slightest clue as to how many people live in this city - nor ever cares to learn such facts; one of dozens - yes dozens - of bone-headed errors in the paper over the past few days....

PS - Luis Sinco also did a photo of a certain Marlboro smoking soldier in Iraq.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Robert Graham dead at 70

I didn't know he had been ill the past six months so his passing was a real shock. The above link goes to the LAT' obit. More later.

Possible Good News For LA In Proposed IndyMac Sale!

Los Angeles's two biggest banking institutions collapsed this past year - leaving us with only City National Bank from the once many locally headquartered multi-billion dollar financial institutions of national importance. Countrywide collapsed strictly from its internal problems.

However, a troubled but still functioning IndyMac failed immediately after a run caused by New York Senator Charles Schumer's highly unethical remarks (which directly benefited IndyMac's New York based competitors) but it appears Schumer will escape any legal consequences for his actions.

The bad news/good news of the proposed take over, which could be announced as soon as Monday, is that the buyers were constituents of Senator Schumer (surprise, surprise) - but the good news is that the buyers are not another bank - but a consortium of private equity and hedge funds.

This means that at least for the short term, the headquarters should remain in the Los Angeles area (it is presently headquartered in Pasadena) and there is at least a possibility, slim although it may be - that IndyMac could either remain locally headquartered or - more likely - when it is acquired - there is still a possibility a local firm or local investors will be able to acquire it. More likely, though, an out of state bank will gobble it up for its extensive local branch network - and its huge loan serving portfolio.

But whatever happens - hopefully - both local officials and the governor will do everything they can to keep the bank locally based. After all - there is a first time for everything....

IndyMac Is Set to Be Sold to Private Investors
December 27, 2008, 8:31 pm

IndyMac Bancorp, one of the largest banks to fail as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis, is close to being sold to a consortium of private equity and hedge fund firms, people briefed on the matter told DealBook.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, along with a team of former Lehman Brothers bankers who are now with Deutsche Bank, have been engaged in the sale process since federal regulators declared IndyMac insolvent in July and seized the company. The deal could be announced as soon as Monday, these people said.

The buyers include private equity firms J.C. Flowers & Company and Dune Capital Management and the hedge fund firm Paulson & Company, these people said.


And...

The consortium would buy the entire bank, including its 33 branches, reverse-mortgage unit and $176 billion loan-servicing portfolio.

The deal is a coup for Dune Capital, founded in 2004 by ex-Goldman Sachs partners Steven Mnuchin and Daniel Niedich, and the other partners because they are picking up a solid bank on the cheap.

J.C. Flowers, led by former Goldman partner J. Christopher Flowers, focuses on financial firms, having attempted to acquire student lender Sallie Mae last year. But the firm has struck few deals so far amid the banking crisis.

Paulson & Company, led by John Paulson, has been one of the biggest winners in the subprime mortgage meltdown, having reaped billions of dollars by betting against risky home loans. Mr. Paulson recently indicated to investors in his hedge funds that he is prepared to start buying up low-priced debt like prime mortgages and investing in financial institutions.

When Indymac failed, more than 130 F.D.I.C. employees swooped in on the bank to prepare it to reopen under government supervision. The bank was founded in 1985 by Angelo Mozilo and David Loeb, who also founded Countrywide Financial. IndyMac once specialized in “Alt-A” home loans, which often didn’t require borrowers to fully document income or assets.

It collapsed after defaults mounted and as tight capital markets caused losses on mortgages it couldn’t sell.

The seizure came after panicked customers withdrew more than $1.3 billion of deposits over 11 business days. The withdrawals followed comments in late June by Charles Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, questioning IndyMac’s survival.

–Zachery Kouwe

The Single Most Sexist Remark By A Politician In 2008 Was Made By.... Caroline Kennedy??

In a political year in which almost every rule was broken - including the myth that Americans were too racist to elect a black man president - and a woman would have almost certainly won the White House if Barack Obama had not run, it is a little startling to read Caroline Kennedy's response to a question she did not like when interviewed by the New York Times on her fitness to be appointed to replace Hillary Clinton as US Senator of New York:
With several weeks to go before Mr. Paterson makes his decision, she is doling out glimpses of her political beliefs and private life. But when asked Saturday morning to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat, Ms. Kennedy seemed irritated by the question and said she couldn't recall.

Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” she asked the reporters. “I thought you were the crack political team.”

That's right. When she wanted to insult the New York Times reporters, she called them the single lowest form of journalistic life she could think of - writers for women's magazines. And then she continues:
“I’m not a conventional choice,” Ms. Kennedy said. “I haven’t followed the traditional path, but I do think I’d bring a kind of a lifetime of experience that is relevant to this job.”

Ah, yes. A lifetime of wealth and privilege where she couldn't be bothered to do all the little common place things... like voting. After all - voting is what the little people do. But it is in the closing line where the reporters clearly allow her to hang herself with her own words... and her own attitude towards them.
As things wrapped up, a reporter tried to pose another question, but she interrupted him.

“I think we’re done,” she said.

With that.... she dismissed her subjects.

The Top Two Emailed Stories On The LA Times Website Are Both By... Joel Stein!

The 'good' news is - one of them is worth reading and it has been mainly number one or two for the almost week since it has been written (and I will not embarrass Joel by linking to the other one which is so poorly written it doesn't even make any internal sense).

Now there are two reasons why Joel Stein could have written this column. One was to make people debate what should be said and what should not be said for politically correct reasons - even if such things are stated in an outrageous context - as opposed to at times denying a situation that has a certain amount of truth in it in due to the potential of those statements being misunderstood and having a negative affect on society.

The other is Joel Stein will simply say anything that will get him attention.


How Jewish is Hollywood?
A poll finds more Americans disagree with the statement that 'Jews control Hollywood.' But here's one Jew who doesn't.
Joel Stein

December 19, 2008

I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe "the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews," down from nearly 50% in 1964. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood.

How deeply Jewish is Hollywood? When the studio chiefs took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago to demand that the Screen Actors Guild settle its contract, the open letter was signed by: News Corp. President Peter Chernin (Jewish), Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey (Jewish), Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger (Jewish), Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton (surprise, Dutch Jew), Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer (Jewish), CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves (so Jewish his great uncle was the first prime minister of Israel), MGM Chairman Harry Sloan (Jewish) and NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker (mega-Jewish). If either of the Weinstein brothers had signed, this group would have not only the power to shut down all film production but to form a minyan with enough Fiji water on hand to fill a mikvah.

The person they were yelling at in that ad was SAG President Alan Rosenberg (take a guess). The scathing rebuttal to the ad was written by entertainment super-agent Ari Emanuel (Jew with Israeli parents) on the Huffington Post, which is owned by Arianna Huffington (not Jewish and has never worked in Hollywood.)

The Jews are so dominant, I had to scour the trades to come up with six Gentiles in high positions at entertainment companies. When I called them to talk about their incredible advancement, five of them refused to talk to me, apparently out of fear of insulting Jews. The sixth, AMC President Charlie Collier, turned out to be Jewish.

As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood. Without us, you'd be flipping between "The 700 Club" and "Davey and Goliath" on TV all day.

So I've taken it upon myself to re-convince America that Jews run Hollywood by launching a public relations campaign, because that's what we do best. I'm weighing several slogans, including: "Hollywood: More Jewish than ever!"; "Hollywood: From the people who brought you the Bible"; and "Hollywood: If you enjoy TV and movies, then you probably like Jews after all."

I called ADL Chairman Abe Foxman, who was in Santiago, Chile, where, he told me to my dismay, he was not hunting Nazis. He dismissed my whole proposition, saying that the number of people who think Jews run Hollywood is still too high. The ADL poll, he pointed out, showed that 59% of Americans think Hollywood execs "do not share the religious and moral values of most Americans," and 43% think the entertainment industry is waging an organized campaign to "weaken the influence of religious values in this country."

That's a sinister canard, Foxman said. "It means they think Jewsmeet at Canter's Deli on Friday mornings to decide what's best for the Jews." Foxman's argument made me rethink: I have to eat at Canter's more often.

"That's a very dangerous phrase, 'Jews control Hollywood.' What is true is that there are a lot of Jews in Hollywood," he said. Instead of "control," Foxman would prefer people say that many executives in the industry "happen to be Jewish," as in "all eight major film studios are run by men who happen to be Jewish."

But Foxman said he is proud of the accomplishments of American Jews. "I think Jews are disproportionately represented in the creative industry. They're disproportionate as lawyers and probably medicine here as well," he said. He argues that this does not mean that Jews make pro-Jewish movies any more than they do pro-Jewish surgery. Though other countries, I've noticed, aren't so big on circumcision.

I appreciate Foxman's concerns. And maybe my life spent in a New Jersey-New York/Bay Area-L.A. pro-Semitic cocoon has left me naive. But I don't care if Americans think we're running the news media, Hollywood, Wall Street or the government. I just care that we get to keep running them.

jstein@latimescolumnists.com

Monday, December 22, 2008

Charles E. Young New CEO At MOCA!

Charles E. Young is MOCA's new CEO - which is also a new position - and Jeremy Strick is no longer the director - but that position remains unfilled. There is also a new advisory board with some blue chip names on it, the terms have been settled for Eli Broad's donations, substantial sums have already been pledged from other sources, no art will be sold, MOCA will remain independent and there is also a 90 period during which MOCA can shop around Broad's offer. The deal seems to satisfy almost everyone's demands.

And if MOCA does finally accept the deal, this seems to fulfill the requirements laid down by Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti for the city to consider throwing in some Bunker Hill CRA funds into the pot.

All that's left now are getting some additional board members, a new director, and then... answering the big question.

Where do they build the new building to house the permanent collection?

Below is LAT 's Culture Monster post:


MOCA accepts Eli Broad's $30-million lifeline, appoints CEO
11:05 PM, December 22, 2008


After weeks of conjecture, the board of the financially strapped Museum of Contemporary Art has voted to accept a $30-million bailout offer from billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, a founder and life trustee of the museum and the city’s largest arts patron.

In addition, MOCA’s beleaguered director, Jeremy Strick, has resigned and MOCA has appointed UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Charles E. Young as the museum’s first chief executive.

The Broad deal, to be announced today, ends speculation that the museum might opt to accept a merger offer made last week by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

According to the agreement, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation will match contributions to MOCA’s endowment up to $15 million and provide $3 million a year for exhibition support for five years.

In an interview Monday, Broad, a staunch downtown supporter, said he made his offer because it would be a “real blow to this city” if the downtown museum, a linchpin of the planned Grand Avenue redevelopment, did not survive.

Broad said he was not requiring MOCA to raise $15 million in matching funds in order to receive the $15-million challenge grant but rather would match endowment funds “dollar for dollar” with what MOCA was able to raise from trustees and others, with a cap of $15 million.

“It’s very simple — they raise a dollar, the foundation puts in a dollar,” Broad said.

The agreement also includes a 90-day window to “allow any responsible party to replace the Broad Foundation on identical terms.”

In an interview Monday, MOCA board co-chairmen Tom Unterman and David G. Johnson said that museum trustees had pledged or promised more than $20 million in new gifts since the museum’s financial troubles became public in November. The executives declined to name specific board members who were planning donations.

Broad’s agreement calls for MOCA to “continue operating as an independent world-class contemporary art museum” and to maintain both its headquarters on Grand Avenue and the Geffen Contemporary space in Little Tokyo. The plan requires MOCA to “keep its collection intact and not sell any works of art.”

The agreement also requires MOCA to operate with an annual budget of “no less than $13 million and no more than $16 million in cash expenses” but says that the museum may operate at a higher level if it has the cash income to do so. In recent years, the museum’s budget has averaged $20 million, Unterman said.

Broad said he did not demand the resignation of Strick or the appointment of Young in order for MOCA to accept his challenge grant, although he supported both decisions and was consulted about the choice of Young.

Through a spokeswoman, Strick, who led the museum for nine years, declined to comment.

During his tenure, Strick presided over financial shortfalls that resulted in the museum’s dipping into funds from “restricted” accounts.

“We’re a donor — we’re not on the board, we’re not running MOCA in any way, shape or form,” Broad said of his charitable foundation.

Broad’s decision to make the $30-million offer to MOCA in November pitted the city’s most powerful arts patron against LACMA, which houses the largest art collection west of the Mississippi.

Broad, who funded the $56-million Broad Contemporary Art Museum on the LACMA campus, dashed the county museum’s hopes of acquiring his extensive private collection of contemporary art when he disclosed plans in January to instead retain his holdings for loan to multiple museums. He said Monday that he perceived no rift between himself and LACMA and would continue to support both the county museum and MOCA.

Unterman said Young was being given the title “chief executive officer” rather than director because Young is expected to oversee the museum’s business operations rather than make artistic decisions.

“Chuck Young is a very distinguished leader and fills many roles, but he would be the first person to say that he is not a person of the art world,” Unterman said. “We didn’t want to connote that he is going to be the next director of the museum.”

Young will work in tandem with a newly appointed advisory committee of arts leaders, including John R. Lane, president and chief executive of the New Art Trust and director emeritus of the Dallas Museum of Art; Warhol Foundation President Joel Wachs; John Walsh, director emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum; and financial advisor Gary Cypres. A successor to Strick has not been named.

Broad, 75, made his initial fortune in real estate through Kaufman & Broad, now KB Home. He also founded and led SunAmerica, now a subsidiary of American International Group, until 2000, when he stepped down to concentrate full time on philanthropy.

Although also noted for substantial gifts toward educational and medical institutions, Broad made a spate of major donations to Los Angeles arts institutions in 2008. Not only did the Broad Contemporary Art Museum open, but the businessman also donated $6 million to Los Angeles Opera for its upcoming production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle and $10 million to the new Broad Stage at Santa Monica College.

--Diane Haithman

New Management And Financial Plan To Be Announced At MOCA - Tomorrow Morning!

For Immediate Release:
Monday, Dec. 22, 2008

Media Contacts:
Elizabeth Hinckley, MOCA, 310-854-8199 or cell 323-864-0429
Karen Denne, The Broad Foundation, 310-954-5058 or 310-702-4280


MOCA to Announce Financial Improvement Plan,
New Management

WHO: Tom Unterman (MOCA Board Co-Chair ), David Johnson (MOCA Board Co-Chair ), Eli Broad (Founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation), Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (tent.), City Council President Eric Garcetti, City Councilwoman Jan Perry, New MOCA CEO To Be Announced

WHAT: MOCA trustees, local philanthropists and city leaders will hold a press
conference to announce a plan to improve the museum’s finances and
introduce new management.

WHEN: Tuesday, December 23, 3008
Media Check-In 10:00am
Announcement 10:30am

WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Parking is available at the Walt Disney Concert Hall garage, $8 flat rate for three hours with MOCA validation ($17 deposit required upon entry).

Los Angeles Times SCOOPS Nikki Finke On SAG Vote Postponement! UPDATE!

OK - it's official. It IS the end of the world as we know it.

UPDATE!

Complete story up - and no one else seems to have the news.

Screen Actors Guild delays strike vote
The union, which has been rocked by internal dissent, will convene a special meeting of its national board to discuss the matter.
By Richard Verrier

8:51 PM PST, December 22, 2008

Rocked by growing internal dissent that is splintering Hollywood's largest union, the Screen Actors Guild has postponed plans for a controversial strike authorization vote until after the union's national board meets to discuss the matter.

The union's 120,000 members were poised to vote on the planned strike referendum next month, with ballots going out Jan. 2.

But in an e-mail to the union's board members Monday night, SAG Executive Director Doug Allen said he and SAG President Alan Rosenberg agreed to push back the strike referendum until after the board convenes a special meeting Jan. 12 to "address the unfortunate division and restore consensus."

"This division does not help our effort to get an agreement from the [studios] that our members will ratify," Allen wrote. "This will provide us with more time to conduct member education and outreach on the referendum before the balloting."

The union's leadership has argued that a strike authorization vote is necessary to give them leverage in contract negotiations with the studios that have stalled for months.

To pass, a strike authorization must be approved by 75% of members who vote.

But the guild's "education campaign" to build support for the referendum has met with growing resistance within the union.

Opposition boiled over last week when SAG's New York members openly rebuked Rosenberg and demanded that he call off the strike vote. Rosenberg has repeatedly spurned the idea, saying that would undermine the union and only benefit the studios.

More than 130 high-profile actors, including Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and George Clooney, have also urged the union to reconsider its decision.

But SAG says nearly 100 celebrities, including Mel Gibson and former SAG President Ed Asner, have declared their support, arguing that the studios' contract offer is unacceptable and threatens the future of actors in the digital era.

Just what the board may do at the Jan. 12 meeting is uncertain.

Although Allen said in the e-mail that the strike vote would begin immediately after the meeting, that is by no means clear.

In fact, moderates, who hold a slim majority on the board, are expected to press for a delay in the strike vote to see whether negotiations can resume with the studios.

The board could vote to replace the current negotiating committee with a task force, as New York division board members have advocated.

The board also could move to have Allen step aside as the chief negotiator.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Los Angeles Times Website HIDES Most Important Local Story Of The Year! UPDATE!

David Zahniser just wrote a groundbreaking expose of how the City of Los Angeles got caught - by him - hiding a report from the citizens of Los Angeles on a projected - but hidden from the public - 2.1 billion dollar raise on DWP rates in a political pay off to powerful union bosses. But not even a single word of that story can be found on the front page of the website. All that can be found on the front page is a brief line about some solar energy plan being called 'risky'.

Then in the California section of the website, it is buried as item number.... seven. (UPDATE - By early afternoon, this story is now totally off main page and buried as item number... eleven.... on California page.)

At a time when the city is in critical financial difficulty, what more important story can there be than one that demonstrates how the City of Los Angeles is no longer run for the benefit of its people - but that it is now run for the benefit of the powerful public employee unions that fund the elections of our elected officials.

It is a major blow to the Los Angeles Time's journalistic credibility to hide this story from its web readers. In any other city - this expose would be the front page 'Section A' headline story.

But not at the Los Angeles Times.

Analysis calls ambitious L.A. solar plan 'extremely risky'
An outside consultant says Measure B, which easily made the March 3 ballot, is more costly than portrayed by the city's Department of Water and Power.
By David Zahniser

December 19, 2008

When members of the Los Angeles City Council agreed last month to put an ambitious solar energy plan on the March 3 ballot, they talked effusively about their desire for cleaner air and "green" technology jobs -- the kind that could boost the economy during a recession.

What they didn't discuss was an analysis by a city-hired consulting firm that called the solar plan "extremely risky" and considerably more expensive than was being portrayed by the Department of Water and Power.

Measure B, which calls for unionized DWP workers to install solar panels on rooftops and parking lots across the city, sailed onto the ballot with a unanimous vote. But days earlier, the council's top policy advisor was so troubled by the proposal that, in an e-mail to Council President Eric Garcetti, he recommended that the council delay it until a future election.

After receiving the analysis from the consulting firm, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller warned Garcetti that the solar measure could result in "substantial increases" to the electricity bills of DWP customers.

Neither Miller nor Garcetti made those findings part of the public record. Since then, Miller's office has rebuffed requests from The Times for a copy of the consulting firm's analysis, saying the state's public records law allows city officials to withhold any document that would reveal the "deliberative process" between the council and its chief legislative analyst.

Miller said Thursday he is no longer worried about the cost, as long as the DWP can secure $1.5 billion in solar tax credits. But he said the agency still must deal with other findings from the consultant, which concluded that the utility "does not have the planning mechanisms and resources in place" to accomplish the solar plan.

Garcetti, for his part, said the consulting firm's findings were not made part of the record because they were among several opinions that he solicited informally on the ballot measure. Solar industry experts disagreed with the numbers produced by the consultant, he said.

"They said that this [ballot measure] was absolutely doable and that that [the consultant's analysis] was wrong."

Still, foes of Measure B said the findings confirm their worst suspicions about the measure -- and the process used to get it on the ballot.

Opponents have called Measure B a backdoor mechanism to make voters sign off on a huge package of DWP rate increases. And they accused Garcetti and Miller of concealing the findings of the private analysts, P.A. Consulting Group.

"That's the problem with City Hall," said former DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras, who opposes Measure B and is running for city controller. "They think the average taxpayer is not smart enough to tell them the truth."

In a Nov. 4 e-mail obtained by The Times, Miller told Garcetti that he entered into a "quick contract with a very reputable firm" to study the solar plan at Garcetti's request. He offered to keep the analysis from other council members even as he complained that DWP officials had failed to do their own thorough analysis of the measure. "It concerns me greatly that the department did not come forward with this information themselves," Miller wrote. "It would have been as available to them as it was to me."

Miller later concluded: "Since this request came directly from you, I am not sharing this with [Councilwoman] Wendy [Greuel] or the other members until you clear it."

Garcetti said he later gave Miller permission to give the findings to other council members -- and would not have voted to place the measure on the ballot if he thought the findings were accurate.

Still, Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who heads the council's Budget and Finance Committee, said he never received the findings -- and wished that he had.

"If this is accurate information, or at least a point of view, the council should get the chance to ferret through this," Parks said.

The DWP has already agreed to impose increases of nearly 24% on electricity bills between 2006 and 2010. DWP officials contend the solar plan would lead to rate hikes of no more than 4% for the average household, and that those would occur no sooner than 2011.

But according to a one-page summary attached to Miller's e-mail, P.A. Consulting Group warned that ratepayers could face annual surcharges of up to 12% per year if Measure B passes.

The analysis also said that the solar plan would cost $3.6 billion, not the $1.5 billion suggested by DWP General Manager H. David Nahai.

"Bottom line is they do not believe that the department can deliver on this program at all, and that the costs associated with the program are way understated," Miller wrote in his e-mail to Garcetti.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council members have embraced the solar plan, which was spearheaded by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents DWP employees. Under the plan, all the solar panels would be owned by the DWP and installed by the utility's workers.

In the mayor's office, the measure was handled by Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who was recently tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to fill a high-level environmental post in Washington, D.C. Sutley said Thursday that she never received a copy of the outside analysis. "I heard it referred to once and never again," she said.

Sutley said she could not respond to the assertions in the analysis because she did not know what they were based on. She also said she never asked for the document because she wasn't sure it existed.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the Energy and Environment Committee, said Miller showed her the one-page summary of the consulting firm's findings. Perry said she was "alarmed" by the potential effect on DWP ratepayers but did not keep the document because she thought it was confidential.

Asked why she voted to put the measure on the ballot anyway, Perry said she thought she could unearth more details about the solar program in the months leading to the election. "I felt that through the committee process, we would be able to better vet the proposal, which is what I'm doing now," she said.

Greuel, who is also running for city controller, said she also looked at Miller's document but concluded that the DWP had answered all the questions raised by it.

Representatives of P.A. Consulting Group did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

The findings zeroed in on the surcharge -- known as the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor -- that the DWP places on power bills to cover the costs of fluctuating prices, including natural gas and sources of renewable energy.

The firm warned that the surcharge, which stands at 4% annually, could triple if Measure B passes.

DWP officials said they had not received a copy of the outside analysis. But in an interview two weeks ago, Nahai said the prospect for a larger surcharge was unlikely.

"Is that within the realm of political possibility? I would say no."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Confusing LA Times Story On MOCA, Eli Broad and Jeremy Strick!

Two posts down, the New York Times says that MOCA is - for now - accepting Eli Broad's offer and working on the details.

The below Los Angeles Times article says at the end of one sentence, that MOCA is moving towards the Broad deal - but the rest of the article is mainly about Jeremy Strick's resignation - or non-resignation - and the back history of the MOCA crisis. I can only assume that another longer story on just the Broad deal is being written by another reporter which is why this story focuses on the Strick angle.


Director Strick said to be latest casualty at MOCA
10:40 PM, December 18, 2008


The financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art struggled with efforts to secure its future Thursday as its beleaguered director, Jeremy Strick, approached the end of his tenure and board members moved toward a bailout deal with billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.

One member of the museum’s Board of Trustees, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Strick had resigned during a “tearful” scene at a meeting of the board. A MOCA spokeswoman, however, denied that.

“Jeremy Strick did not submit his resignation; that is inaccurate,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Hinckley. “MOCA’s official position is that Strick did not resign as the director of MOCA. He is still the director of MOCA. He has not resigned at all.”

The museum issued a statement after the board had met for much of the day saying that trustees were still considering outside proposals to stabilize the institution’s bottom line.



“The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees is continuing to review the options presented to the full board today. MOCA anticipates making a further announcement as early as next week regarding the outcome of these discussions,” the statement said.

The problems at MOCA, which was founded in 1979 and is widely considered one of the finest contemporary art museums in the world, became public knowledge in mid-November, when The Times reported that Strick was seeking large cash infusions from donors to solve a financial crisis.

The museum’s federal tax returns show that early in this decade, it had spent all $20 million of its unrestricted funds to meet routine operating costs. By mid-2007, it had borrowed an additional $7.5 million from “restricted” accounts, designated by donors for specific uses.

As a result of the revelations, the California attorney general’s office is looking into the museum’s finances.

The MOCA board convened Thursday for the second time this week to continue to discuss two recent bailout offers: a merger proposal from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a $30-million donation from Broad, contingent on MOCA’s being able to match $15 million of the grant with other funds.

Broad came forward in late November with the $30-million offer. And this week, LACMA stepped up to the plate by proposing a merger with MOCA that would allow the downtown contemporary museum to exhibit its collections at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion under construction on LACMA’s Wilshire Boulevard campus.

Strick, who grew up in Los Angeles, was brought in as director in 1999. He earned his bachelor’s degree in art history at UC Santa Cruz and pursued doctoral studies at Harvard. Before coming to MOCA, he had served as a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

At MOCA, the low-key and scholarly administrator was perceived as a lavish spender. On his watch, the museum’s budget rose from $15.6 million in fiscal 1999-2000 to $21.2 million in 2006-07.

-- Diane Haithman

It's Official! The City Of Los Angeles Is Now More Corrupt Than Chicago!

Thank God for David Zahniser at the LA Times or it would have take a lot longer to shine some light on the city's proposed solar initiative program. Luckily, I think there is still time for the city to call a special session on Monday and remove this measure from the ballot. At that time each member of the city council should also personally apologize to the citizens of Los Angeles for their actions.


Analysis calls ambitious L.A. solar plan 'extremely risky'
An outside consultant says Measure B, which easily made the March 3 ballot, is more costly than portrayed by the city's Department of Water and Power.
By David Zahniser

December 19, 2008

When members of the Los Angeles City Council agreed last month to put an ambitious solar energy plan on the March 3 ballot, they talked effusively about their desire for cleaner air and "green" technology jobs -- the kind that could boost the economy during a recession.

What they didn't discuss was an analysis by a city-hired consulting firm that called the solar plan "extremely risky" and considerably more expensive than was being portrayed by the Department of Water and Power.

Measure B, which calls for unionized DWP workers to install solar panels on rooftops and parking lots across the city, sailed onto the ballot with a unanimous vote. But days earlier, the council's top policy advisor was so troubled by the proposal that, in an e-mail to Council President Eric Garcetti, he recommended that the council delay it until a future election.

After receiving the analysis from the consulting firm, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller warned Garcetti that the solar measure could result in "substantial increases" to the electricity bills of DWP customers.

Neither Miller nor Garcetti made those findings part of the public record. Since then, Miller's office has rebuffed requests from The Times for a copy of the consulting firm's analysis, saying the state's public records law allows city officials to withhold any document that would reveal the "deliberative process" between the council and its chief legislative analyst.

Miller said Thursday he is no longer worried about the cost, as long as the DWP can secure $1.5 billion in solar tax credits. But he said the agency still must deal with other findings from the consultant, which concluded that the utility "does not have the planning mechanisms and resources in place" to accomplish the solar plan.

Garcetti, for his part, said the consulting firm's findings were not made part of the record because they were among several opinions that he solicited informally on the ballot measure. Solar industry experts disagreed with the numbers produced by the consultant, he said.

"They said that this [ballot measure] was absolutely doable and that that [the consultant's analysis] was wrong."

Still, foes of Measure B said the findings confirm their worst suspicions about the measure -- and the process used to get it on the ballot.

Opponents have called Measure B a backdoor mechanism to make voters sign off on a huge package of DWP rate increases. And they accused Garcetti and Miller of concealing the findings of the private analysts, P.A. Consulting Group.

"That's the problem with City Hall," said former DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras, who opposes Measure B and is running for city controller. "They think the average taxpayer is not smart enough to tell them the truth."

In a Nov. 4 e-mail obtained by The Times, Miller told Garcetti that he entered into a "quick contract with a very reputable firm" to study the solar plan at Garcetti's request. He offered to keep the analysis from other council members even as he complained that DWP officials had failed to do their own thorough analysis of the measure. "It concerns me greatly that the department did not come forward with this information themselves," Miller wrote. "It would have been as available to them as it was to me."

Miller later concluded: "Since this request came directly from you, I am not sharing this with [Councilwoman] Wendy [Greuel] or the other members until you clear it."

Garcetti said he later gave Miller permission to give the findings to other council members -- and would not have voted to place the measure on the ballot if he thought the findings were accurate.

Still, Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who heads the council's Budget and Finance Committee, said he never received the findings -- and wished that he had.

"If this is accurate information, or at least a point of view, the council should get the chance to ferret through this," Parks said.

The DWP has already agreed to impose increases of nearly 24% on electricity bills between 2006 and 2010. DWP officials contend the solar plan would lead to rate hikes of no more than 4% for the average household, and that those would occur no sooner than 2011.

But according to a one-page summary attached to Miller's e-mail, P.A. Consulting Group warned that ratepayers could face annual surcharges of up to 12% per year if Measure B passes.

The analysis also said that the solar plan would cost $3.6 billion, not the $1.5 billion suggested by DWP General Manager H. David Nahai.

"Bottom line is they do not believe that the department can deliver on this program at all, and that the costs associated with the program are way understated," Miller wrote in his e-mail to Garcetti.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council members have embraced the solar plan, which was spearheaded by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents DWP employees. Under the plan, all the solar panels would be owned by the DWP and installed by the utility's workers.

In the mayor's office, the measure was handled by Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who was recently tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to fill a high-level environmental post in Washington, D.C. Sutley said Thursday that she never received a copy of the outside analysis. "I heard it referred to once and never again," she said.

Sutley said she could not respond to the assertions in the analysis because she did not know what they were based on. She also said she never asked for the document because she wasn't sure it existed.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the Energy and Environment Committee, said Miller showed her the one-page summary of the consulting firm's findings. Perry said she was "alarmed" by the potential effect on DWP ratepayers but did not keep the document because she thought it was confidential.

Asked why she voted to put the measure on the ballot anyway, Perry said she thought she could unearth more details about the solar program in the months leading to the election. "I felt that through the committee process, we would be able to better vet the proposal, which is what I'm doing now," she said.

Greuel, who is also running for city controller, said she also looked at Miller's document but concluded that the DWP had answered all the questions raised by it.

Representatives of P.A. Consulting Group did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

The findings zeroed in on the surcharge -- known as the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor -- that the DWP places on power bills to cover the costs of fluctuating prices, including natural gas and sources of renewable energy.

The firm warned that the surcharge, which stands at 4% annually, could triple if Measure B passes.

DWP officials said they had not received a copy of the outside analysis. But in an interview two weeks ago, Nahai said the prospect for a larger surcharge was unlikely.

"Is that within the realm of political possibility? I would say no."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

MOCA Accepts Eli Broad's Offer!

No word from LA Times, but this very good news just in from the New York Times:

December 19, 2008
Los Angeles Museum Agrees to Accept Rescue Deal

By EDWARD WYATT
LOS ANGELES — The board of this city’s financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art reached a preliminary agreement on Thursday to accept a financial rescue offer from Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist who was a founding trustee of the museum and is one of this city’s largest arts patrons, according to three people close to the board.

The agreement, which the board voted on at a long meeting Thursday afternoon, is not final and is subject to numerous conditions, including Mr. Broad’s examinations of the museum’s financial accounts, according to the people, two of whom attended the meeting on Thursday.

The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not final and they were not authorized to talk about it, said that the museum’s executive committee was continuing to meet Thursday night to hammer out details of the deal.

They also cautioned that the agreement could fall apart and that a competing offer from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a merger of the two institutions had not been completely dismissed.

Museum officials could not be reached for comment Thursday night. In a statement issued at about 4:40 p.m. Pacific time on Thursday, the museum said: “The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees is continuing to review the options presented to the full board today. MOCA anticipates making a further announcement as early as next week regarding the outcome of these discussions.”

Two people who were present at the meeting said that after a vote, the board authorized the executive committee to complete the deal. One of those people said the board favored Mr. Broad’s offer because “it allows us to remain an independent, ongoing museum.”

The offer from the Los Angeles County Museum would merge the operations of the two institutions and exhibit some of the contemporary museum’s work at the county museum’s campus.

The Museum of Contemporary Art has run into increasingly difficult financial straits in recent years as its fund-raising has failed to keep up with its spending and the museum’s management dipped into restricted funds in order to pay for ongoing operations.

As a result, the museum’s endowment has declined from more than $40 million near the beginning of the decade to about $6 million currently, according to people who have been briefed on the museum’s finances. The erosion of resources has been made worse by the recent declines in the financial markets, which have taken substantial bites out of the investment portfolios of many cultural institutions.

Mr. Broad offered last month to come to the museum’s rescue, offering up to $15 million in matching funds to help rebuild the endowment. He said he would give the museum one dollar for every dollar it raised. He also offered to give the museum $15 million over five years to pay for exhibitions.

The city’s mayor, Antonio R. Villaraigosa, urged the trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Thursday to take another 30 days to conduct a public review of proposals to rescue their institution, which is facing a financial crisis. The board’s trustees met for the second time in three days to evaluate the two competing rescue offersBroad.

The mayor asked the museum to voluntarily invoke a clause in its lease on two city buildings that calls for the appointment of a panel of “contemporary art experts” to help oversee the museum if it breaches its contractual obligation to remain a “museum of ‘world class’ stature.”


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Los Angeles Times Finally Discovers Mike Davis And His 'Facts' Are Frauds! (except they only got the second part right!)

Back in the distant reaches of time - about ten years ago, in fact, I launched what was at the start a one man war against Mike Davis and his latest book - 'Ecology of Fear'. This was at a time when everyone from Business Week to the LA and New York Times was praising him for his command of the 'facts'; facts I easily proved - hundreds of times over - were often complete fiction.

Ecology of Fear's central premise was that it was more dangerous to live in Southern California than almost any place in this country. I, however, pointed out that the biggest environmental dangers to human life in this country were from extreme changes in heat and cold - and real hurricanes and real tornadoes - none of which we suffer from in Los Angeles. This was an argument which no one paid much attention to.

So it is quite... satisfying... for the LA Times to today finally discover that I was also completely right on that point. See the attached link above or the article below for details.

Now as far as where Mr. Mike Davis is today, he recently left his position at UC Irvine and is now hunkered down at the UC Riverside. But Davis no longer teaches geography or urban planning or history or political science or anything that directly applies to the subjects of his constant stream of books. Instead, Mike Davis now occupies a position for which his books such as 'City of Quartz' and 'Ecology of Fear' and 'Victorian Holocausts' have proven him eminently qualified to hold.

Mike Davis is now a professor of - drum roll, please ... creative writing.

Disaster area? Southern California has it made in the shade

The region is actually one of the safest in the country, researchers say. Extreme heat and cold are far more deadly than earthquakes and wildfires.

By Thomas H. Maugh II and Mary Engel

December 17, 2008

Southern California may think of itself as disaster-prone, alternately bemoaning and reveling in its status as earthquake-, wildfire- and mudslide-plagued.

But it seems a reality check is in order: The region is actually one of the nation's safest -- at least in terms of human lives.

The natural hazards that bedevil us are small potatoes compared with those in other parts of the country, researchers said Wednesday in releasing a disaster map of the U.S.

Extreme heat and cold, flooding and tornadoes are the deadliest natural hazards, and they strike most frequently in the Gulf Coast, the northern Great Plains and the Mountain West, researchers reported online in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

"There is a public perception that the risk of dying in earthquakes and hurricanes is higher than that from everyday hazards," said Susan L. Cutter, a respected health geographer at the University of South Carolina who led the study. "Most people say earthquakes are big events that kill lots of people, but they don't. The same is true for hurricanes."

Heat waves, extreme cold and flooding "don't garner as much attention in the news, and may not be as catching to the eye for publicity . . . but the risk associated with them over the course of a year is quite high," said Tricia Wachtendorf, associate director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

"Because of their frequency, they are going to be impacting a greater number of people," she said.

Most studies of natural hazards have tended to map one type of disaster, making it difficult to compare relative risks, Cutter said. There also have been conflicting claims about which natural hazards caused the most deaths.

To attempt to get a handle on the issue, Cutter and graduate student Kevin A. Borden used data from two national databases for the period 1970 to 2004. They identified 19,958 deaths from natural hazards and mapped them on a county-by-county basis.

Heat and drought together were the greatest hazard, accounting for 19.6% of the total, followed by severe summer weather at 18.8% and winter weather at 18.1%. Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes combined accounted for less than 5%.

Mortality was greatest in the South, where most people were killed by severe weather and tornadoes. In the northern Great Plains, heat and drought were the biggest killers. In the Mountain West, winter weather and flooding caused the most deaths, and in the south-central U.S., floods and tornadoes posed the biggest risk.

California is lucky because "we don't have lots of severe weather," said Kimberly Shoaf of UCLA's Center for Public Health and Disasters. "Although we have heat, it is constant heat.

"It's not the temperature itself but the difference between the average temperature and the heat extremes" that is dangerous because it catches people unprepared, she said.

As for the wildfires that sweep through the region with alarming frequency, they create the perception that Southern California is particularly disaster-prone -- but fires claim relatively few lives.

Earthquake preparation has gone a long way to mitigate the risks in a seismically unstable area. California has "done a great deal in terms of its emergency management and risk reduction, has been very proactive, so it doesn't surprise me that the number of deaths has been fairly low," Wachtendorf said.

Charlie Sardou, interim communications manager for the greater Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross, wasn't surprised that the nation's earthquake capital ranked low on deaths from natural disasters.

He said California's strict building codes protected the state from the huge losses seen in countries with more vulnerable structures.

But the number of deaths is just one measure of a disaster, Sardou said. A large quake would damage homes and businesses, close freeways and all but shut down Los Angeles and other cities.

"The bigger question is what would happen to the quality of life here in Southern California for some time afterward," Sardou said. "The total amount of damage could be many, many times greater than, say, a [Hurricane] Katrina."

Added Jay Alan, spokesman for the state's Governor's Office of Homeland Security: "We do face obviously the potential of a major disaster in the form of an earthquake or a tsunami. Those are things Kansas doesn't have to worry about."

But even for property damage, earthquakes rank low in the overall scheme of things.

"Floods tend to be No. 1 for everything because they happen frequently and affect large areas," Shoaf said. "We had two flooding events this year where the entire Midwest was covered. . . . The property damage for that is huge."

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

mary.engel@latimes.com

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Los Angeles Times Goes On-Line With Reuters Tribune BK Story!

Los Angeles Times reports story of its potential BK:

Tribune is preparing for bankruptcy filing
From Reuters

Publisher and broadcaster Tribune Co. is preparing for a possible bankruptcy-protection filing as soon as this week, The Wall Street Journal reported on its website today, citing people familiar with the matter.

Tribune Co., whose newspapers include the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, in recent days has hired Lazard Ltd. as its financial adviser and a legal counsel for a possible trip through bankruptcy court, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Messages left with Tribune and Lazard were not immediately returned.

The Journal, which cited a Tribune spokesman saying the company doesn't comment on rumors or speculation. It said a Lazard spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The paper said Tribune has been on wobbly footing since last December, when real-estate mogul Sam Zell led a debt-backed deal to take the company private.

Tribune so far has stayed ahead of its $12 billion in borrowings with the help of asset sales, but dwindling profits are now tightening the noose, it said. The company's cash flow may not be enough to cover nearly $1 billion in interest payments this year, and Tribune owes a $512 million debt payment in June, the paper said.

Wall Street Journal Says Tribune/LA Times Could Go BK - This Week!

Looks like Sam Zell and the Los Angeles Times may be headed to court...

DECEMBER 8, 2008
Tribune Co. Taps Lazard,Weighs Filing for Chapter 11
Tribune Co. is preparing for a possible filing for bankruptcy-court protection as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter, in another sign of trouble for the newspaper industry.

In recent days, as Tribune continued talks with lenders to restructure its debt, the newspaper-and-television concern hired Lazard Ltd. as its financial adviser, as well as legal counsel for a possible trip through bankruptcy court, according to people familiar with the matter.

A Tribune spokesman said the company doesn't comment on rumors or speculation.

Is The Tribune (And Thus The Los Angeles Times) Going To File Bankruptcy?

No one knows for sure - except likely San Zell. But he just hired the sharpshooters who can either pull things together without going BK - or who can pull the trigger if he does have the Tribune go BK.

Tribune Hires Advisers to Try Staving Off Bankruptcy
DECEMBER 7, 2008, 6:02 PM


Tribune has hired bankruptcy advisers as the ailing newspaper company seeks to stave off a potential bankruptcy filing, people briefed on the matter said.

The newspaper, which was taken private last year by billionaire investor Samuel Zell, has hired the investment bank Lazard and the law firm Sidley Austin, these people said. Tribune has been hobbled by debt related to that sale last year, which has been compounded by the growing drought of advertising for newspapers.

It is only the latest — and biggest — sign of duress for the newspaper industry yet. Several newspaper companies have struggled to cope with declining revenues and mounting debt woes.

While Tribune has sought to ameliorate its woes by selling off assets like the Chicago Cubs, the company still faces a looming debt crunch. Tribune hired Lazard several weeks ago to assess its options, these people said. Sidley Austin is a longtime outside adviser to Tribune, and it has a well-respected bankruptcy practice as well.

–Michael J. de la Merced, Richard Pérez-Peña and Andrew Ross Sorkin

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Saving MOCA! Part Two of Three Parts!

Saving MOCA! Part Two of Three!

If you have not yet read Part One – that is the post before this and it covers the immediate short terms needs of MOCA.

This particular post, however, is about how the founding founders of MOCA in their infinite wisdom – totally screwed themselves.

Without going into all the gory details, MOCA was part of the Bunker Hill redevelopment project and the museum’s construction was paid for the by 1% arts fees of the developer. And a great plan was developed by a local company with what would later become one of the greatest teams of architects ever on one project – but the CRA instead went with a deep pocketed Canadian developer who hired a talentless hack, gave us California Plaza and then went BK.

But to add injury to insult, the plan also greatly restricted the size of the museum building and made it largely subterranean and made it impossible to ever add onto the building in a major way. Adding to that, there was a conflict among the MOCA trustees – and, gee, is this beginning to sound familiar? – on whether one should strive for a world class landmark – or just a large barn to hold art.

As it turned out – both sides lost and so now we have a nice - but not great - piece of architecture that is so hidden and so modest that most people Downtown do not even know there is an art museum on Bunker Hill – which includes many who drive past it daily.

Hence the museum has a very low profile both physically and institutionally in Downtown Los Angeles - much less the rest of LA - and most people I know outside of the art world who live Downtown have never once been in the museum.

Yet – the other – and far more major - problem is that the exhibition space is now far too small and the only way MOCA has been able to survive is that the temporary museum – AKA the TC, then The Geffen – that was retrofitted out of a warehouse before the actual museum was built, was kept open by popular demand when the real museum was opened.

But the days when MOCA could survive with such limited exhibition spaces have long past – which is why the entire institution has literally reached its expiration date.

The problem is MOCA can never show more than a tiny part of its permanent collection and any major donors to the museum know if they donate their collections to the permanent collection, MOCA will never be able to show what they are donating.

Meanwhile – across town – at LACMA, their board bought almost a full bock directly across the street for parking- and for future developments. Then they bought both the May Company and its adjacent Appliance building and the parking lots behind them. LACMA finally recently bought both an office building on Wilshire and an under-construction building behind it.

LACMA can now house ten major new collections with the space it can add to its campus while MOCA can barely open a new broom closet. So guess who gets all the major donations? Guess who has all the major collectors serving on its board? And guess who is going broke?

Now the leaders of MOCA have considered expanding – and – hat in hand – they went begging for land from the Grand Avenue Project - even though the public benefits had already been spoken for as being the civic park and affordable housing –leaving nothing for them.

So they gave up trying to expand on Grand Avenue since the only site they ever considered was supposedly out of reach - even though there was a way to make even that work - if they had any imagination.

Their other problem is they never did a real analysis of the land around their buildings. For if they had, they would have realized there are seven different locations along the Grand Avenue Corridor for their expansion – and three of them are solely owned by the City of Los Angeles.

In fact, there are acres and acres of potentially free land for the taking, but they have been too blind to see them.

Now at the same time, the Getty Museum is building the world’s largest photography collection, but – by law – it cannot add even one square foot to its campus in Brentwood due to covenants that run with its deed - while MOCA has a very modest photography collection.

In addition, Eli Broad is looking for a place to build the storage facility for his collection of contemporary art.

And, again, there are acres and acres of under-utilized infrastructure owned by the City of Los Angeles within one to two blocks of MOCA – not to mention other sites where all three of these projects could be easily located..

Now one obvious solution is that the Getty be given rights to part of the city owned land for its photography museum (which would then replace the need for MOCA to spend its resources on that subject) in exchange for help for MOCA.

The same could be done with Eli’s collection – and he has already offered help for MOCA to stay independent – and in the neighborhood.

There is also sufficient land for a mixed use component to help pay for the costs of the long term home for MOCA's permanent collections. There is also the possibility for reconfiguring the final phase of the Grand Avenue project to coordinate with these efforts.

Now I have already walked all these sites with various civic leaders – and each one of them has agreed – this is a fully physically feasible project if there is the political will to make it happen.

And the good news is that there are so many choices – a final decision does not need to be made right now. All that is needed from the city is a commitment that certain pieces of city owned land will be reserved for MOCA and the Getty and the Broad Foundation – and then the exact details can be worked out later. But this would then enable MOCA to build its board and start the fund rising once they know the land has been secured.

So if anyone at MOCA – or the Getty – or at Eli’s Foundation – wants to take a walk on Bunker Hill – give me a call at 213-804-8396. And be sure to bring your walking shoes.

Next – Part Three – What LA REALLY needs to be a world class art capital. But give me a day or two more for that one…

Saving MOCA! First Of Three Parts!

Saving MOCA – Part One of Three parts

The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art – as everyone now knows, is so short of cash it has considered selling part of its permanent collection – or merging with another arts institution, such as LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Now since MOCA’s financial problems have been known for years, it should be no surprise to anyone in the art world that with the current financial crisis, the situation is now critical.

What no one has publicly considered, though, is that more than a few the seeds of the current crisis were first planted when crucial decisions were made about the Grand Avenue building during the museum’s founding (and more about that later).

Then, these inherent structural problems were worsened by the failure of the trustees to be able to carry out a major capital campaign in the past decade, though the trustees were, belatedly, about to launch one.

Finally, there was immediate cause of current crisis; the leadership of MOCA, after they were unable to raise enough money to cover even their operating expenses – much less putting aside any money for the future, still recklessly spent down their uncommitted funds reserve, temporarily borrowed from restricted funds that were not supposed to go towards operating costs and allowed the endowment to decline in value – even before the current financial meltdown.

Ironically, though, there is some good news in all this.

Unless there are unexpected surprises, all that money was spent to make MOCA the best curated and most respected contemporary art museum in the world. MOCA clearly does not have the type of leadership crisis that happened at the Getty where millions were squandered and an art collection was greatly compromised by one man’s ego. I can only speculate that the trustees felt by continuing to spend money to keep up the standards up at the museum, that they would then attract additional donors and backers by their creating a world class museum.

They took that gamble – and they lost.

For a variety of reasons (which will be explored in part 2), no new major donors ever showed up. And for whatever reasons they had, the trustees also did not step up to write the checks themselves – nor did any of them step down to bring in people who would write those checks.

So then came the Christopher Knight article in the Los Angeles Times about the pending collapse of MOCA – and shock waves reverberated throughout the art world. But as the hours and then days passed – not a word came out of MOCA – other than the story about the trustees being about ready to hand over the collection to LACMA – and it soon became clear that the trustees had no agreement on how to solve the crisis.

At that point Eli Broad started making calls around the city – and that night there appeared on the LAT website his Op-ed offering $30 million to MOCA on the very general condition that other people in Los Angeles step up to the plate with their checkbooks – and he made it very clear he did not limit that challenge to the trustees.

Unfortunately, days, then weeks have gone by with still no response from the trustees.

Now, in one way this is not necessarily a bad thing. I take it that while there is a minority ready to sell out MOCA by handing the museum over – all or in part – to another institution – I cannot see the majority of trustees being willing to do this, even without the social and public outrage that would follow.

So the potential good news is that rather than fighting in public – or back stabbing each other in the press, the board seems to be trying to put together a real solution to their problems and trying to find a solution that all of them – or at least all of those who plan on continuing being board members – can agree upon. And hopefully those who cannot give or get the money needed – or who do not agree with this approach, will do the honorable thing and step aside for those who can be a part of the solution.

This then brings us to the present day – and the question of where do we go from here? And I am talking about those of us who are not trustees and who do not have the ability to write the kind of checks that will make a difference.

To begin with, it is time to stop lowering the bar of what we expect from both the trustees and our civic leaders.

It is time to stop saying that it is OK to close wither the Geffen or Grand Avenue on a permanent or short term basis, other than the already scheduled shutdown of the Geffen next year.

It is time to stop saying that we need to have massive layoffs of the staff at MOCA. It is most of all, time to stop saying that selling even one piece of art to raise money for operating funds is acceptable – much less having any kind of merger with any other arts institutions.

MOCA needs to remain intact and its programs need to continue. To say this city cannot afford to do that is a travesty.

And I’ve been stunned by the number of people – and the members of the press - who are saying that one or more of these options needs to be considered. This is particularly offensive since there is now no need to any longer consider these options.

For one thing, Eli Broad's 30 million gift – which he was careful to say would be paid out over a period of time, will – with whatever is raised by the trustees and other sources – cover the current deficit and keep the doors open without having to sell or transfer any of the collection. And by his saying his money will be spread over a period of time – it will allow for a two or three year period to at least stabilize the situation.

And as for the trustees supposed being ‘afraid’ of whatever strings Eli might attach. I have two words.

Bull shit!

If anyone thinks that Eli Broad has nothing better to do than to micromanage MOCA’s affairs – they clearly do not know the man. He has already been here and he has done that – and he has moved on. This whole crisis is the last thing he has time for with all the other things he has got going – and the less he needs to do to get MOCA back on track – the happier he will be.

So the first thing we the public can do is insist that the trustees declare both the institution and the collection as being out of bounds – and the staff, too, as much as is possible - and that they then work out a deal with Eli for the 30 million. They then need to announce what their personal contributions will be and how much in pledges they have either already raised from other sources – or will commit to raising.

The second thing we can do is sign up to the Cindy Bernard and Diane Thater founded (though other people are now also involved) MOCA MOBILIZATION site on Facebook, and then sign the petition - and then read up on what is happening. It is the one place we can all communicate and try to work together.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/group.php?gid=46490296653&ref=ts

Third, we can not only encourage friends to buy memberships but we can also give memberships as Christmas – or whatever particular holiday you celebrate this year - presents. And if every artist in LA gives just one membership as a present - rather than a sweater – that’d be a hell of a lot of memberships – and I swear I hear it’s going to be a warm winter.

Fourth, we can hold artist and community run fundraisers. And while every dollar counts – what is more far more important is to keep the issue alive in the press. That is why we need to think of the fund raiser as being art projects – performance pieces in their own right.

And we should have a lot of fun doing them.

So how about the Gorilla Girls dressed in gorilla bikinis and washing cars in front of the Geffen? Lucha VaVoom doing a benefit event in front of Grand Avenue – with artist participation? How about Steve Martin doing his classic old routines at one of the old Broadway theaters? Or the Kipper Kids? Or Chris Burton’s greatest hits? Or artist-oriented bands doing concerts? Or an artist Christmas decoration and bake sale along Grand Avenue? Or giving Machine Project full run of Bunker Hill?

Now I know some of these ideas are kind of… nuts - but that's the whole idea. Let's have some fun while we whistle past the graveyard. And lets keep the story of MOCA in the public eye because even right now – 90% of the people in this city still have no idea what is going on.

So to close up Part 1 of this essay – it is up to the trustees and the civic leaders to match Eli’s challenge and that will solve the immediate problem for the next 2 or 3 years. And it’s up to us – and our friends in the media – to keep the pressure on the trustees to do this AND to keep MOCA independent. And it’s also up to us to keep the mission in the public eye.

This then brings us to the two big, long term problems facing MOCA; first the structural problem that has plagued MOCA since even before it opened – and then the far bigger problem that has haunted all of LA's visual arts organizations - and all LA artists – for like… forever.

And so the structural problem, the more easily solved problem, is part 2 – so cut and paste the bottom link.

http://lacowboy.blogspot.com/2008/12/saving-moca-part-two-of-three-parts.html

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Washingtonians Menanced By Crazed Nocturnal Flying Squirrels!

As if millions of people showing up for the inauguration isn't enough to drive the residents of the greater Washington DC area nuts - they now have to deal with squirrels driven mad by the total lack of acorns this year.

Below are the two 'nut' grafs:

Rachel Tolman, a naturalist at Long Branch, smeared a big glop of peanut butter on one of the nature center's trees. She grabbed handfuls of store-bought hazelnuts and placed them atop boxes to attract the tiny, nocturnal flying squirrels that tend to mass in the oaks every winter. Within seconds, the squirrels dive-bombed in from nearby trees, legs outstretched like fist-size silvery-gray sky divers. "They're so much more willing to be seen this year," Tolman said. "It's because they're so hungry."

Hazelnuts gone and peanut butter licked clean, the still-hungry flying squirrels scampered high into the tree canopy and chirped angrily for more.

Monday, December 01, 2008

LA Puppets Take Manhattan! Or At Least The New York Times!

The New York Times' gal on the ground in LA - Jennifer Steinhauer - has the best story yet on Bob Baker's Marionette Theater's quite stageworthy melodrama of being foreclosed upon by an evil banker just before Christmas.

Other places have covered the dollars and cents angle in more detail, but she really captures the soul of this only in LA, scratch, make that - only in Hollywood venue - that holds forth place right here in Downtown Los Angeles. And be sure and look at the linked to slide show above - and then go to the below Facebook site - and adopt a puppet!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/group.php?gid=45275503652

Or - donate art or whatever to a benefit auction:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/group.php?gid=45963899602

December 2, 2008
Forget Citigroup, Puppet Show Needs a Bailout
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

LOS ANGELES — There are many ways to measure California’s tanking economy: an 8.2 percent unemployment rate; a multibillion-dollar state budget gap; threatened endowments of the city’s museums, causing some cultural institutions to nearly default on mortgages; and the continued weakening of the Hollywood studio system. But the meltdown of the marionettes may say it all.

Near a freeway overpass on a decidedly scrappy edge of downtown Los Angeles is a marionette puppet theater that has enchanted children over nearly five decades, several recessions, two riots, at least four failed urban renewal plans and an earthquake or two.

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater’s shows, employing an eclectic selection of Mr. Baker’s 3,000 handmade puppets prancing about a shoebox-size theater perpetually decked out in gold garlands, are a staple of a Los Angeleno childhood. It is the cultural equivalent of the annual march by the nation’s third graders to the neighborhood firehouse.

But the struggling California economy and some bad business decisions by Mr. Baker have left the Bob Baker marionettes in a deep financial ditch, and Mr. Baker, a rather unheralded Hollywood legend, with an uncertain future. “We have all kinds of problems that have come up recently,” Mr. Baker said. “But we’re not going to close. We’re going to fight this out to the very bitter end.”

Over the last few months Mr. Baker, 84, has fallen $30,000 behind on his mortgage and lost a rent-paying tenant, while his two major sources of revenue have dried up. First, the public schools have reduced financing for field trips. And second, some of his lower-income parents, he said, unemployed and swimming in debt, are unable to come up with the $15-per-ticket admission.

“We’ve had quite a few people call who are losing their houses and have to cancel birthday parties,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Baker said, a few years ago he refinanced the theater’s mortgage to help pay for rising operating costs, and the mortgage payments have shot up. A business deal he made to improve his space went bad. He said he was negotiating with his lenders, and added ruefully, “I am more of an artist than a businessman.”

In a city where children’s movies are often screened in a Hollywood theater with white-glove popcorn service and the organic certifications of birthday cakes are debated at length on Web sites aimed at parents, Mr. Baker’s theater is a charming throwback.

As they have for generations, children gather in a circle on the floor of the 200-person capacity auditorium as Mr. Baker’s elaborately appointed marionettes scamper about to the sounds of old phonograph records, scratches and all. The theater is one of the few places in Los Angeles that routinely attracts racially and economically diverse groups of children.

A typical show requires about 15 workers, including 8 puppeteers, a lighting designer, a costume maker and ticket takers. There are usually two productions a year, one with a Christmas theme. The second show might be “Something to Crow About,” a barnyard spectacular; the Latin-flavored “Fiesta”; or a revue like “Bob Baker’s Musical World,” which might evolve over the season and employ a rotation of 100 or more puppets. Mr. Baker also performs puppet shows around Southern California for birthday parties and other events. The annual budget, Mr. Baker said, is about $360,000.

Victoria Hurley, 42, grew up in Los Angeles going to the shows, and now takes her children, who are 5 and 3. “They still serve the exact kind of ice cream with the exact same wooden spoon I got 30 years ago,” Mrs. Hurley said. “The quality of the entertainment has certainly held up fantastically, but I think the building could use some sprucing. It is almost like they haven’t even repainted. I personally think it is charming, but if I came from New York and brought my children I might feel otherwise.”

At a recent performance of “The Nutcracker,” an eclectic mix of Mr. Baker’s handmade puppets appeared, ranging from a Mouse King, resplendent in velvet, to what is perhaps best described as selections from the “Soul Train” collection, white leisure suits and gold trim included.

The marionettes are handled by Mr. Baker’s students, who spend a good year under his tutelage before they are allowed to don black clothing and work before an audience. As they moved through the room they occasionally dropped a puppet into the lap of a delighted toddler. As usual, the whole affair ended with a cup of vanilla ice cream handed to each child.

The shows are not exactly linear. The “Soul Train” marionettes, for example, are wedged into “The Nutcracker,” and the story seems oddly lacking in the middle section. But the focus is really on the puppets, in their glorious velvet and gossamer.

“There is a magic thing about a live puppet show,” Mr. Baker said recently. “I was watching the children just today and they were hugging the puppets, and then they always come up after me and ask me how they work. A lot of children who come here have never been to a live show and may never go to a live show again.”

The number of people whose careers as puppeteers Mr. Baker started is “amazing, at least a dozen professionally,” said Greg Williams, 51, a professional puppeteer who helps Mr. Baker with his road shows. “I started with him when I was 15, and was cleaning the party room. I went from there to doing the sets to the lights. One day a puppeteer wasn’t available, and I got shoved on the floor,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Baker “gets a lot of the neighborhood kids, and some of these kids who look like they would have no future are here entertaining and enjoying it,” Mr. Williams said. Mr. Baker still does many private birthday parties personally. “You get those Beverly Hills parents and you need to keep those people happy,” he added.

Mr. Baker, whose puppet passion began at an early age, has had an authentic Hollywood career — something not immediately evident given his modest site downtown.

He grew up in what is now Koreatown, in a house often full of actors and others from the “theatrical world,” Mr. Baker said, and graduated from Hollywood High School. When he was a little boy, his father took him to a holiday show at an area department store, which featured, as many store entertainments did in the early 20th century, puppets.

When he turned 7 he bought two puppets and soon started working the birthday party circuit. He said his first party was for Mervyn LeRoy, a producer and director for both Warner Brothers and MGM, which set off a word-of-mouth campaign. Years later he would perform at Liza Minnelli’s fourth birthday party. (And, keeping it in the family, a few years after that, he appeared in the 1954 Judy Garland film, “A Star Is Born,” conducting a marionette show.)

In the 1940s Mr. Baker worked as a puppet maker for George Pal, creator of the Puppetoons, whose movies and television credits include cult films like Edgar G. Ulmer’s “Bluebeard” (1944), the original “Star Trek” series and “Bewitched.”

Mr. Baker started his production company in 1949 with his business partner, Alton Wood (who died in 2001). It has remained one of the more well-known training grounds for puppet makers who have gone on to work in fantasy films.

But it is the theater, opened in 1960 in a warehouselike building, for which Mr. Baker is best known around town. The elaborate facade meant to suggest “Alice in Wonderland” is long gone, as are the evening performances, which Mr. Baker said faded after the 1965 Watts riots made people afraid to venture downtown at night. Weekends and shows for school groups — along with sales of puppets and movie work — have sustained him, and he hopes the doors of his theater will stay open.

“My mother used to say, ‘We can fall into a mud puddle and come up smelling like roses,’ ” Mr. Baker said. “We have gone through some pretty hard times, and I just have to see the light of day. We’re just going to make it.”

Why In A Just Society AJ Duffy And Every Other Leader Of The United Teachers Los Angeles Union Would Be Publicly Hung

Obviously, I am indulging in a bit of hyperbole with the above statement - but after reading the below Los Angeles Times editorial - and after you consider that not just tens but hundreds of thousands of LAUSD students have been prevented from getting an education due to AJ Duffy, his union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and the LAUSD Board members his union's money has gotten elected - what should be done to people who have destroyed generation after generation of Los Angeles' children?

And remember, every reform listed in the below editorial was bitterly fought - and is still being opposed - by AJ Duffy, his union and the school board members he helped elect.

A YEAR AT LOCKE
Locke High School's progress
Three months into the school year, a troubled high school is making strides as a Green Dot charter.

December 1, 2008

The lesson was polling. Math teacher Fernando Avila acted as pollster, the students as respondents and the four corners of the classroom their opinions: strongly agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, strongly disagree. The topic: How Locke High School in Watts had changed since being taken over by charter operator Green Dot Public Schools.

Were the school uniforms of chinos and polo shirts a good idea? The students shuffled into their chosen corners. Many hated the uniforms; some liked them; some were indifferent. And so it went, the students distributing themselves among the corners for each question -- until they were asked whether teachers cared more about them and their education this year, and the entire class crowded into "strongly agree."

Nearly three months into the school year, the changes at Locke are obvious. Last year, when it was still run by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Locke was known for student brawls, rampant graffiti, ditched classes and a dropout rate so high that the senior class was routinely one-fourth the size of the freshman class.

This year, the halls are virtually empty during class. Teachers and aides say the campus is almost graffiti-free, and fights have diminished from one a day or so to less than one a month. Tardiness and ditching are down, now that both of those bring detention. Student attendance for September and October averaged 92%, close to that at suburban high schools.

"The teachers care a lot more," chorused several juniors when asked about the changes at their school. "They ask you things," one boy added in an awed voice, as though this were a strange new behavior among teachers. What kinds of things? "Like whether you're OK, and do you understand what they taught."

Locke High School represents the kind of transformation that can take place practically overnight under committed, energetic new leadership. As the school struggles with crowding and early signs of student backsliding, however, it also illustrates the pervasive and persistent difficulties that challenge urban schools.



Defying logic

Math teacher Carlos Perez believes he has a special understanding of his students. He grew up in the neighborhood but made good, attending UC Santa Cruz. At that rustic campus, he remembers the wonder of waking up and seeing deer outside his window instead of graffiti. He returned to Watts determined to help its teenagers. This is his third year at Locke, and he thinks there's more "student buy-in" to what school is all about. But when he tries to tell students that they can achieve what he did or even more, most don't believe him.

To a visitor, his geometry class looks chaotic. In the front, groups of students are noisily practicing their skills with congruent figures; in the back, others are quietly but obviously engaged in social chatter. Girls are plucking boys' eyebrows; meanwhile, the first groups finish their work and borrow a deck of cards from Perez, shouting and cursing as they play. Perez ignores the bluster, moving from student to student, quietly conferring to see if anyone needs help. When he reaches the laggards, they pull out their papers and get to work, and when he wants the class' full attention, he stands in front of the room and speaks in his quiet, gentle voice. In just a few moments, the students settle down.

In Perez's eyes, it's all about appreciating what different students need, especially given their almost universal fear of math. He doesn't worry about the loud ones, because they're always on top of their work. It's the quiet ones who have trouble understanding and avoid tackling the problems, and he allows them to delay -- for a while. He won't ask for an answer from a student who's unlikely to know it; public embarrassment, he is certain, is not the way to teach them.

Though everyone completes the geometry practice, the class defies conventional logic. No student spent even half the period on task; wouldn't they learn more if they were engaged in their subject more of the time? Eventually, test scores will tell, but in the back of Perez's classroom, one sophomore thinks she has the answer. She doesn't like most of the changes at Locke, she says. The tight security means "I don't get to ditch no more," and the uniforms are ugly. But she's certain that she's learning math better and faster than she was last year.



Requiring patience

Each morning at Locke, some students show up without their uniforms; they're sent to the loaner rooms. At each bell, walkie-talkie-equipped staff members position themselves at strategic points on campus to urge students toward their next classes, order their shirts tucked in and keep watch against taggers.

The campus of more than 1,800 students is divided into smaller "academies." Two are for freshmen, who are coached intensively on algebra and other high school skills. Another offers "credit recovery" to students who are so far behind on the courses needed to graduate, they need self-paced online classes to catch up. And one is devoted solely to students who are "back from camp" -- recently released from juvenile hall and a potential disruption to regular classes.

After a tightly controlled start to the new year, some plans are unraveling slightly. An enrollment battle with L.A. Unified ended with Locke being forced to accept extra students. The two main academies on campus, for sophomores through seniors, were supposed to be capped at 650 students each and now have 800, many of whom didn't show up until October.

Less than two weeks ago, someone started a fire in a bathroom. After two months of high attendance, absenteeism rose substantially in November. About 40 students stopped coming to school altogether; many of them returned, but now more have gone missing.

At its other charter schools, Green Dot can control against such frustrations. It caps enrollment at 500 and has waiting lists of motivated parents and students who want exactly what Green Dot has to offer: safer campuses, more academic rigor. But in its boldest experiment, taking over a large urban school, it no longer has these luxuries. Locke is the neighborhood school and educates most of the neighborhood's students. Ronnie Coleman, director of the two biggest academies, hopes for rising test scores this year but predicts that Locke's scores will substantially drag down the Green Dot average.

Still, in ways, the school has come far academically. Avila remembers burned-out teachers who sat in the back of their classrooms reading or snoozing. This year, the school is staffed with idealistic young instructors. Ask to meet an older teacher and you'd probably be steered to Avila, who at age 30 and with eight years at the school is a senior figure. Some students sense the inexperience in their new teachers, but what they lack in classroom years, they make up for in zeal.

They need it. Working with students who haven't developed academic habits, or an understanding of why they should even bother with school, requires utter patience.

Coleman reinforces this dozens of times a day. Between classes, she directs one of her "trouble children" to tuck in his shirt. The student tentatively pushes one corner of the hem toward his belt, ever so slowly, clearly hoping Coleman is too busy to wait for him to obey, or possibly to provoke a reaction. "I'm a patient woman, sir," she says. Half-an-hour later, the student is walking across the quad with his shirttail out. Coleman sighs, noting that if teenagers have to rebel, it's better if it's about something as innocuous as a tucked shirt. Similarly, in a meeting with the Spanish faculty, she advises teachers not to bother lecturing students about classroom profanity; it just escalates into a confrontation with those who resent authority figures and wastes instructional time.

Yet in Lucrecia Nava's English Language Development class, expectations for behavior are high, and the students meet them. Every moment of the 90-minute class is devoted to intense instruction, reading, writing and speaking in English, each task checked off on a large list tacked to the wall. The mental effort is palpable as the students struggle to construct sentences in an unfamiliar language.

Nava speaks loudly and enunciates distinctly as she leads the class through a persuasive five-paragraph essay. Ready ready ready? she asks. Is it better when the two academies have lunch together or, as they usually do, separately? Give three reasons why. The students vote for separate lunches. There's more space; the lines are shorter; and "we avoid problems," one boy says, meaning there's less chance of a fight.

After class, Nava is asked what will happen to these students, who can barely read an English sentence aloud, when they have to take the high school exit exam. "Absolutely, they can pass," she says. And then, as though she is speaking for all the teenagers and teachers at Locke, she adds, "They just have to work harder. They'll always have to work harder at everything."