Archive | Santa Clara County

No Debt Crisis in U.S. Now: There’s no immediate debt crisis, Boehner says, agreeing with Obama

By Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The country isn’t facing an immediate debt crisis, House Speaker John Boehner(R-Ohio) said Sunday, but he argued that Congress and the president must reform entitlements to avert one that lies dead ahead.

“We all know that we have one looming,” Boehner said on ABC’s “This Week”. “And we have one looming because we have entitlement programs that are not sustainable in their current form. They’re going to go bankrupt.”

Boehner expressed agreement with Obama’s statement in an ABC interview the other day that the debt doesn’t present “an immediate crisis.”

But Boehner took issue with Obama’s assertion that it doesn’t make sense to “chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance.”

The new spending plan from House Republicans would balance the budget in 10 years, a priority Boehner said this morning is important to the economy.

“Balancing the budget will, in fact, help our economy,” Boehner said. “It’ll help create jobs in our country, get our economy going again, and put more people back to work.”

“The fact that the government continues to spend more than a trillion dollars every year that it doesn’t have scares investors, scares businesspeople, makes them less willing to hire people,” he said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Boehner said the House would “review” any gun control measure that came out of the Senate. He restated his opposition to gay marriage, and said that, unlike his fellow Ohio Republican, Sen. Rob Portman, he can’t imagine a situation in which he would change his mind. Portman said this week that his views had evolved since he found out his son is gay.

Dwelling on budget issues, Boehner said he has a good relationship with Obama and trusts him, and that a lack of good relations is not the problem getting in the way of a sweeping deficit-reduction plan.

The challenge is in overcoming big differences, he said.

“When you get down to bottom line,” he said, “if the president believes that we have to have more taxes from the American people, we’re not going to get very far.”

“Washington has responsibility, to our seniors and our near seniors, that we firm up these programs so that they’re there for the long term,” Boehner said.

“Because if we don’t do it, not only will they not get benefits, we will have a debt crisis right around the corner. We have time to solve our problems. But we need to do it now.”

 

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AutoReturn Uses Cloud-Based Technology to Simplify Police Towing Management and Reduce Municipal Costs in Concord, California

AutoReturn, the nation’s leading municipal towing management and logistics company, has announced the successful implementation of the company’s cloud-based technology, ARIES Online, as a stand-alone technology offering to the City of Concord, Calif.

“We are pleased to bring this technology to municipalities around the country who want to be more autonomous in their towing management, but need our technology to help them,” said AutoReturn CEO John Wicker.  “Our solution transforms the way cities and residents think about municipal services, making them more transparent, efficient, and cost effective.”

AutoReturn has three solutions to assist cities with their towing needs:

  1. AutoReturn Full Service, offering a turn-key municipal towing solution
  2. AutoReturn Logistics, which layers logistics support over our technology solution
  3. ARIES Online, which allows municipalities to utilize AutoReturn’s technology and continue to manage all operations internally.


ARIES Online provides municipalities with the technology to optimize the entire towing life cycle, from the dispatch request to storage and the final disposition of the vehicle. This cloud-based technology helps transform municipal towing services and streamline this important city service, resulting in lower costs for municipalities.

By leveraging Android and iPhone smartphone apps, AutoReturn is able to electronically dispatch tow trucks closest to the call, helping reduce costs incurred by the locally owned tow companies and reducing officer wait times, increasing public safety.

“We are pleased to begin using AutoReturn’s cloud technology in Concord to better serve our citizens,” said Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger. “The decision to work with AutoReturn was based on their strong municipal experience and their leading technology that enables the City to simplify a previously complex system,” he said.

AutoReturn is the leader in municipal towing management and logistics solutions, partnering with municipalities and existing local tow operators to help achieve efficiency, superior service, and increased cost recovery. Founded in 2002 as a technology-enabled towing management and logistics company, AutoReturn has revolutionized municipal towing, making sizable investments in technology, repeatable processes, training programs, and other infrastructure. Learn more at http://www.autoreturn.com.

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Republic Urban Development Moves Full Speed Ahead on Millbrae BART Station Transit-Oriented Development

Immediately after being selected by the BART Board of Directors as the exclusive negotiating partner for the Millbrae BART Station development by a 5-2 vote, Republic Urban has committed its team and attention to establish a process with BART and the City of Millbrae that will result in the entitlement of a Transit Oriented Development at the BART station here. The station currently serves Caltrain and BART and will eventually host California High Speed Rail.

“Republic is honored to have the opportunity to develop a project that everyone will be proud of.” said Michael VanEvery, President of Republic’s West Coast Division. “We have the experience, resources and talent to make this project a national model and a great asset to the City of Millbrae and its citizens.”

Republic has already begun its planning process that will include an extensive community engagement program to ensure that the development satisfies the goals of both BART and the Millbrae community. This process will begin with scoping sessions for public input to be incorporated into planning and environmental review.

Republic’s vision for the site is a transit-oriented project that weaves into the city fabric, complements the city’s downtown and creates an attractive gateway. Republic proposes transforming the Millbrae BART station’s surrounding property into a dynamic mix of housing, retail, office and solar energy generation. This mixed-use concept will leverage the local and regional transit connections provide by SamTrans, CalTrain and BART to become an important symbol of 21st Century, regionally focused urban development.

Republic’s master plan takes advantage of the strong existing components of the Millbrae BART station and provides the best use for BART delivering a TOD that will bring riders to the system.  It adds needed housing to the City of Millbrae to assist the City in its struggle to meet ABAG housing requirements.

About Republic

Republic is a privately owned, full-service real estate investment, management and development enterprise with more than 25 years’ experience delivering quality results throughout the United States. Republic has developed award-winning real estate projects ranging from land development to historic adaptive reuse to shopping malls. The company has developed and invested in real property transactions totaling over 17 million square feet with a value in excess of $4 billion.

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U.S. bolsters missile defenses to counter North Korea threat: Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at his news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 15, 2013. REUTERS-Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at his news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 15, 2013.

 

By Phil Stewart and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans on Friday to bolster missile defenses in response to “irresponsible and reckless provocations” by North Korea, which threatened a preventative nuclear strike against the United States last week.

Hagel said the Pentagon would add 14 new anti-missile interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska – an effective reversal of an early Obama administration decision – and move ahead with the deployment of a second missile-defense radar in Japan.

The Pentagon also left open the possibility of creating a site on the East Coast where the Pentagon could field more interceptors capable of striking down an incoming missile. The 14 additional interceptor deployments would cost nearly $1 billion and must be approved by Congress.

“By taking the steps I outlined today we will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Hagel told a news conference.

North Korea issued its threat last week to stage a preemptive nuclear attack against the United States as the United Nations readied new sanctions against Pyongyang in response to its February 12 nuclear test.

Experts say North Korea is years away from being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, despite having worked for decades to achieve a nuclear capability.

But Hagel said the moves announced by the Pentagon were justified to stay ahead of the threat, underscored by the nuclear test and a December rocket launch that analysts believe was aimed at developing technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Hagel also cited North Korea’s display last April of what appeared to be a road-mobile ICBM.

The Pentagon said the United States had informed China, North Korea’s neighbor and closest ally, of its decision to add more interceptors but declined to characterize Beijing’s reaction.

U.S. SAYS SYSTEMS NOT AIMED AT CHINA OR RUSSIA

Officials say its missile defense systems are not designed to counter the large number of ICBMs in arsenals in China or Russia and are focused instead on the threat from North Korea or, potentially, Iran.

Friday’s announcement came with a key caveat – the Pentagon said it would only purchase the extra interceptors if they perform appropriately in tests. The interceptors in question have not hit a target since 2008, a defense official said.

Boeing Co. is the prime contractor of the system. Key Boeing subcontractors include Raytheon Co., which makes the kill vehicle, and Orbital Sciences Corp, which makes the rocket booster.

Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed confidence in the missiles and said he believed the steps taken by the United States would make North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jung-un, think twice before acting on bellicose rhetoric.

“We not only intend to put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objective to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs on them if they do,” he told reporters.

“And we believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that. And if he’s not, we’ll be ready.”

The addition of another 14 interceptors amounts to a reversal of an Obama administration decision in 2010 to stop expansion of the missile interceptor system at 30 interceptors. The Bush administration had planned to deploy a total of 44.

The United States currently has 26 interceptors deployed at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Congressman Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, said the Obama administration had began “to realize the shortcomings of its missile defense strategy.”

“Now that the administration has decided to see clearly, America can get back on the right course,” Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, lamenting lost time and resources.

In a sign of fiscal pressures facing the Pentagon, U.S. officials acknowledged they were also forgoing development of a new anti-missile interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe. They said European defense would be unaffected.

Officials said the United States would move forward with congressionally mandated environmental impact studies for alternative sites in the United States for deploying additional ground-based interceptors, if needed.

Winnefeld said locations on the East Coast were being considered but declined to offer details.

“We’re still looking at sites,” he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and David Brunnstrom)

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Singer Associates Public Relations in San Francisco Wins National Awards as PR Agency of the Year, Issues Management, Media Relations Awards

Sam Singer of Singer Associates Public Relations San Francisco

Singer Associates public relations and public affairs in San Francisco was awarded national honors this week for its work with the City of San Bruno to gain $70 million in restitution for the city after the PG&E explosion and fire of Sept. 9, 2010. Singer received both the award for best issues management campaign and best media relations campaign at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“We are humbled to receive these awards on behalf of our client,” said Sam Singer, president of Singer Associates.  “Our victory was made possible by the work of Mayor Jim Ruane and the City Council of San Bruno, City Manager Connie Jackson, the people of San Bruno, and the law firm of Meyers Nave and its attorneys Steven Meyers and Britt Strottman, and the investment firm of Prager & Co. and its senior advisor Craig Bettencourt,” he said.

PRNews is one of the public relations leading trade publications in New York for professionals in the field of public relations, public affairs, issues management, corporate social responsibility, government relations and non-profit public relations and communications.

Singer’s PRNews awards were won on the heels of the PRWeek Awards in New York City where Singer Associates was selected as the runner up for “Best Public Relations Agency of the Year.” This is the eighth time in 10 years that the agency has been a finalist for this honor, ranking it consistently as one of the nation’s top public relations and public affairs agencies.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Singer Associates is a leading public relations and digital communications agency in California and the western United States specializing in issues management, public affairs, crisis communications,  and litigation, labor relations, healthcare, transportation, commercial and residential real estate, energy, industrial, agricultural, academic and educational and employee communications. Singer agency clients include Chevron, Recology, Stanford Hospitals & Clinics, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Oracle, The Irvine Co., Golden State Warriors, Gladstone Institutes, City of Oakland, California Pacific Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Oakland, Calpine, AIMCO, AutoReturn, Sims Metal Management, Airbnb, BART, AC Transit, CalTrain, City of San Bruno, City of Los Angeles,  and others.

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Stanford’s Hoover Pavilion Gets a Beautiful Rennovation and Update

After more than half a century, the rooftop of the Hoover Pavilion is once again graced with a finial, an architectural ornament akin to the cherry on a sundae. On a cold and overcast morning in late November, a crane hoisted the 500-pound aluminum sculpture more than 105 feet off the ground. It was then lowered onto a kind of pedestal — a cube-shaped concrete stack, sheathed in copper, that sits atop the Hoover Pavilion’s tower — and bolted into place by construction workers.

The undertaking capped a 14-month, $50-million renovation of the Art Deco building, which stands at the corner of Quarry and Palo roads on the Stanford campus. The Hoover Pavilion will house several community physicians, a medical pharmacy, the Stanford Neurology Clinic, Stanford Internal Medicine, Stanford Family Medicine, the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine, the Stanford Coordinated Care Clinic, the main branch of the Stanford Health Library and a café.

“This was Palo Alto’s skyscraper in 1931,” said Laura Jones, PhD, director of heritage services and university archeologist at Stanford, referring to the year the building first opened. She stood in the parking lot watching the crane, her hands stuffed into the pockets of a brown leather jacket. “It’s such a great building,” she said. “I think it’s pretty exciting that it’s been revitalized and will be reopening soon. People will have a chance to see how fabulous it is.”

The edifice, which has a 105-foot-tall tower and 50-foot-tall wings, had become dilapidated over the decades. Before renovation work began last year, the façade was faded and dirty, with air-conditioning units protruding from windows. Now the roughly 82,000-square-foot building has been restored to its former glory on the outside and refurbished to accommodate modern medicine on the inside. (Those AC units are gone, too, thanks to the installation of centralized heating and cooling.)

The building is scheduled to reopen Dec. 17. Originally constructed as the Palo Alto Hospital, the building was designed in the style of a ziggurat — a terraced pyramid built by Babylonians and other denizens of ancient Mesopotamia. Its south and east wing, which was added in 1939, are each four stories and connect to a five-story tower, atop of which sits a sixth-story penthouse. The ziggurat form can be seen in many Art Deco skyscrapers and large structures constructed in the early 20th century.

An iron finial once stood atop the tower of this old hospital: The adornment consisted of a spherical object, resembling a cross between a gyroscope and an armillary sundial, on a pole supported by a four-prong base. But then the finial was removed, possibly for use as scrap metal during World War II. Nobody knows for sure.

In any case, the new finial is an exact replica, except that it is made of aluminum. “Fortunately, on this project we had significant documentation to show what it originally looked like,” said Erin Ouborg, a designer and materials conservation specialist at Page & Turnbull, the architectural firm in charge of restoring the building’s historic façade. “We had the original construction drawings with all the details.”

“It’s an interesting building without the finial,” Jones added. “But with the finial, it’s just superb.”

The original, decorative terra-cotta paneling that covers portions of the building’s facade was in remarkably good shape, said Rachel DeGuzman, a senior project manager at Stanford Hospital & Clinics who oversaw the renovation project. The same couldn’t be said of the steel-reinforced concrete making up the building’s floors; decades of remodeling had left a motley array of boreholes in many of the slabs, and they needed extensive patching, she said.

Some repair work also was needed to decorative relief panels in the façade, and hundreds of repairs had to be made to the exterior walls, Ouborg said. In addition, the clay tiles on the sloping roof of the tower were replaced. Original Art Deco grillwork and other embellishments, such as a rectangular metal angel above the entrance to what is now the health library, remain intact.

But the interior of the building has been largely reconfigured to support the clinics that will be there. The building appears to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources, according to Architectural Resources Group Inc., a San Francisco-based firm. The Hoover Pavilion renovation is part of the Stanford University Medical Center Renewal Project.

 

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AutoReturn of San Francisco Wins New Contract with Kansas City to Start Municipal Towing Program

Kansas City, MO.– After a nationwide procurement search and selection process, Kansas City selected AutoReturn, the nation’s leading municipal towing management and logistics company, to oversee the city’s towing operations and handle, track, and report on towed vehicles.  Kansas City selected AutoReturn for its unique municipal towing management and logistics program.

Kansas City’s choice of AutoReturn highlights the city’s dedication to transforming its municipal towing services and streamlining city operations. The contract represents a prime example of public and private entities coming together to share best practices to simplify government services.

“We believe our solution fundamentally transforms the way cities and residents think about municipal services,” said AutoReturn CEO John Wicker. “We have been working closely with city officials and the police department in Kansas City to provide superior service and make the sometimes unfortunate experience of towing a lot easier for everyone.”

AutoReturn’s Municipal Towing Management Addresses Safety Logistics Issues

“AutoReturn’s software, people and processes have already addressed some of Kansas City’s most difficult public issues related to towing,” said Gary Majors, manager of Kansas City’s regulated industries division.  “By shortening the time it takes for equipment to reach a tow scene, the city reduces officer wait times, decreases traffic congestion, and limits the chance of secondary accidents, saving money and increasing safety.”  The average response time from dispatch to arrival since going live in October, 2012 has been reduced measurably to approximately 11 minutes.

Additionally, said Lesly Forsberg, Manager of Kansas City’s Tow Services Division, “AutoReturn’s model has relieved Kansas City of the day-to-day management of towing operators and tow requests from the Police Department, allowing city staff and police to focus their time on different important public safety issues.”

AutoReturn Technology Benefits Small, Local, Women and Minority-owned Tow Companies

By leveraging Android applications, AutoReturn is able to electronically dispatch tow trucks closest to the call, helping reduce costs incurred by the small, local, women and minority-owned tow companies.  Timothy Marshall, owner of Recovery Tow Service, Inc., said, “AutoReturn technology runs on our existing smart phones, streamlining our business.  Their fair and transparent process provides me the tools to exceed service level expectations.”

AutoReturn currently manages municipal towing and logistics operations in Baltimore County, Maryland, San Francisco, San Diego and, now, Kansas City, Missouri.

The company was founded a decade ago in San Francisco and continues to grow its business nationally. AutoReturn has been praised by cities and municipalities for bringing transparency and efficiency to what the notoriously disorganized business of municipal towing.  AutoReturn uses a proprietary computerized system and software that allows the company to efficiently tow vehicles, reducing time and manpower of police departments and municipal staff while at the same time creating fast and efficient service in returning cars to owners. AutoReturn is expected to continue to grow as other municipalities, police departments, city and regional government review the advances that AutoReturn has made to the industry.

About AutoReturn

AutoReturn is the leader in municipal towing management and logistics solutions, partnering with municipalities and existing local tow operators to help achieve efficiency, superior service, and increased cost recovery. Founded in 2002 as a technology-enabled towing management and logistics company, AutoReturn has revolutionized municipal towing, making sizable investments in technology, repeatable processes, training programs and other infrastructure. Learn more at http://www.autoreturn.com.

 

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California Center for Sustainable Energy Roadshow Guides Californians to Home Energy Savings

Center for Sustainable Energy’s mobile Energy Center travels around California.

 

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) wrapped up the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow on Sunday, Nov. 18 in Cupertino, California, the eleventh stop on the energy education tour. The program, Energy Upgrade California, took energy education for homeowners on the road with the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow, a statewide mobile exhibit on energy efficiency. The roadshow started in San Diego on Nov. 1 and ended in Cupertino last Sunday reaching hundreds of homeowners throughout the state.

The Roadshow spent the last two weeks of November traveling the state to educate homeowners on the Energy Upgrade California program, how to increase home efficiency, provide energy cost savings and improve home comfort.

The roadshow made eleven stops in nine cities including Woodland Hills, Pacific Palisades, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, San Francisco, Antioch, Oakland and Cupertino. The stops included local farmers markets, community workshops and UC Santa Barbara. In the Bay Area, the Roadshow stopped at the Greenbuild Global Conference in San Francisco, a Contra Costa Homeowner Workshop at the Antioch Community Center, Oakland Tech High School and Sears at the Vallco Shopping Center in Cupertino.

Energy Upgrade California provides a “whole house” approach that focuses on a house as a system and looks at how various elements affect energy use. The program presents residents with an array of improvements to increase home health, comfort and safety while saving money on their utility bills.

The program educates homeowners on basic improvements to increase home efficiency and provides eligible homeowners a chance to sign up for an assessment, the first step towards improving their home and receiving rebates. Rebates range from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on the energy savings achieved.

Eligible California homeowners can sign up for a home assessment by visiting the Energy Upgrade California website at EnergyUpgradeCA.org and typing in their county name or zip code.

About Energy Upgrade California

Energy Upgrade California™ is a program of the California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission to reduce residential energy use, curb greenhouse gas emissions and create more comfortable and healthy homes. For more information on Energy Upgrade California, visit www.energyupgradeca.org.

About Energy Upgrade California Roadshow

The Energy Upgrade California Roadshow is a mobile exhibit in a trailer designed to inform and inspire Californians to learn about and install energy-saving improvements in their homes. The Energy Upgrade California Roadshow is funded in part by the Department of Energy in support of the goals of its Better Buildings Neighborhood Program. It was built by CCSE, an independent nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions, based in San Diego.

About the California Center for Sustainable Energy

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) is an independent, nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions via consumer education, market facilitation and policy innovation. For more information and workshop listings, visit www.energycenter.org or call (866) 733-6374.

 

 

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Airbnb Study Finds Online Travel Service Has Positive Effects on San Francisco Economy, Neighborhoods

Airbnb, the world’s leading marketplace for booking, discovering, and listing unique spaces around the world, today released a study that highlights Airbnb’s impact on local economies.

The study was conducted by HR&A Advisors, an industry-leading real estate and economic development consulting firm, and demonstrates that Airbnb provides a major economic boost both to its users and the neighborhoods and cities where they visit and live.  HR&A conducts sophisticated economic impact analyses for a wide variety of industries and clients, and cities around the United States come to HR&A for guidance on fostering strong and sustainable local economies and attracting new sources of economic activity.  Drawing on this expertise, HR&A developed a customized approach to quantify the unique impacts of the new kinds of tourism that Airbnb brings to San Francisco.

The study found that people who rent their homes on Airbnb use the income they earn to stay afloat in difficult economic times. Additionally, the study determined that travelers who use Airbnb enjoy longer stays, spend more money in the cities they visit, and bring income to less-touristed neighborhoods.

“Airbnb represents a new form of travel,” says Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky. “This study shows that Airbnb is having a huge positive impact – not just on the lives of our guests and hosts, but also on the local neighborhoods they visit and live in.”

The economic impact study underscores the significant benefits that Airbnb, a pioneer of the new sharing economy, has on cities and their residents. Some highlights from the study’s findings:

- From April 2011 to May 2012, guests and hosts utilizing Airbnb have contributed $56 million in total spending to San Francisco’s economy, $43.1 million of which supported local businesses throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

- 90% of Airbnb hosts rent the homes they live in to visitors on an occasional basis, and nearly half the income they make is spent on living expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, and other bills).

- Airbnb guests stay an average of 5.5 days and spend $1,045 during their stay on food, shopping and transportation, compared to hotel guests who stay an average of 3.5 days and spend $840.

- 72% of Airbnb properties in San Francisco are located outside the central hotel corridor. More than 90% of Airbnb guests visiting San Francisco prefer to stay in neighborhoods that are “off the beaten track.” Over 60% of Airbnb guest-spending occurs in the neighborhoods in which the guests stay.

Founded in August of 2008 and based in San Francisco, Calif., Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world – online or from a mobile phone.  Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point, in more than 30,000 cities and 192 countries.  And with world-class customer service and a growing community of users, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.

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President Obama, John Boehner begin year-end duel on taxes

Washington (CNN) — Flush with re-election vigor, President Barack Obama on Friday will provide his first public comments on the upcoming negotiations with Congress on how to deal with pending tax hikes and spending cuts that create the so-called fiscal cliff facing the economy at the end of the year.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are positioned as the lead negotiators in a showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the issue identified by voters as a top priority: reducing the chronic federal deficits and debt considered a threat to economic prosperity and national security.

Boehner, R-Ohio, has signaled a willingness to deal but also maintained hardline GOP opposition to any tax increase. He will speak to reporters two hours before Obama delivers his statement on the economy Friday afternoon at the White House.

His hand was weakened by the election results Tuesday that returned Obama to the White House, broadened the Democratic majority in the Senate and slightly narrowed the Republican majority in the House.

Retiring GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio told CNN that a poll commissioned by centrist Republicans showed that voters wanted Congress to fix the nation’s fiscal problems rather than cling to political orthodoxy.

“They didn’t send the same bunch back to town in this election because they love what they’re doing,” LaTourette said. “They sent him back because they don’t trust either side, but they do expect them to get this thing done.”

While the result was another split Congress like the current session that has become a symbol of legislative dysfunction, both sides have signaled a possible new openness to an agreement that was unreachable in the past two years.

In the final days of the campaign, Vice President Joe Biden referred to private talks with members of Congress on the pending fiscal impacts of expiring tax cuts and mandatory budget cuts. This week, Boehner called on Obama to work with him to complete a comprehensive deficit reduction agreement — the “grand bargain” that eluded them last year.

LaTourette said both Boehner and Obama were held back from a deal back then because of pressure from their respective bases — Republicans who signed a pledge against any new taxes stopped Boehner, while liberal defenders of entitlement programs halted Obama.

“The ‘no tax pledge’ people in the Republican Party yanked Boehner back and the ‘don’t you dare touch the middle class’ entitlement people in the president’s party pulled him back, and as a result those talks collapsed,” LaTourette said.

Boehner made clear this week that a comprehensive agreement won’t happen by the end of the year in the lame-duck session of Congress. He proposed that the two sides use that time to set up a framework for substantive negotiations when the new Congress comes in next year while taking short-term steps to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a top Democrat in the chamber, said such a timetable could work.

“We have a chance in the lame duck to at least start the process, and I think there’s a chance to rally bipartisan support,” he said. “These are basic issues we can work out, and the president is in a position to do that.”

The fiscal cliff comprises two main elements. Tax cuts from the administration of President George W. Bush will expire on December 31, triggering a return to higher Clinton-era rates for everyone.

In addition, $1.2 trillion in mandatory across-the-board budget cuts — known in legislative parlance as the sequester — will take effect next year unless Congress finds a way to offset that amount in the federal budget.

Another looming issue will be the need to again increase the nation’s debt ceiling sometime in the spring, creating the potential for more political brinksmanship that contributed to last year’s first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.

Both sides agree the best outcome would be a broad deal addressing the overall need for deficit reduction, including reforms to the tax system and entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

However, they remain far apart on exactly how to forge such an agreement.

Obama campaigned on having wealthy Americans contribute more to deficit reduction efforts, and administration officials say the president will veto any package that extends the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000.

“I’ve already signed a trillion dollars’ worth of spending cuts. I intend to do more, but if we’re serious about the deficit, we also have to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the rates that they paid when Bill Clinton was in office,” Obama said last week on the campaign trail.

In an e-mailed statement, Obama campaign policy director James Kvaal said the president wants “a balanced plan that cuts the deficit by $4 trillion with $2.50 worth of spending cuts for every dollar in revenue and reduces spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements.”

Boehner and Republicans oppose raising taxes on anyone, and instead back a broad reform of the tax system that would lower rates further for everyone while eliminating some deductions and loopholes.

While Boehner said this week that his side was open to increasing revenue from such reforms, he made clear that such increases should come from resulting economic growth instead of higher tax rates.

In essence, Boehner proposed the kind of tax reform championed by failed Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, whose plan was criticized by Obama and many economists for being unrealistic in assuming that the combination of closed loopholes and economic growth would equal the lost revenue of tax cuts.

Obama’s victory gives him new leverage in the budget battles after Republicans forced the president and Democrats into prolonged and sometimes bitter showdowns in the last two years, including threats of government shutdowns and default.

One top Democrat with close ties to leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House said that the imminent expiration of the Bush tax cuts means Obama “doesn’t have to do anything and everyone’s taxes go up,” which is a GOP nightmare.

Such an increase would affect personal income tax, the estate tax, dividends and capital gains taxes.

In addition, some officials are hinting the feared sequester cuts don’t have to be implemented right away in the new year, giving at least a few months for a deal to be worked out.

By Tom Cohen, CNN. CNN’s Jessica Yellin and Allison Brennan contributed to this report.

 

 

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DLA Piper, Sen. Mitchell Tainted by PG&E San Bruno Case: Recusal is the Only Path to Integrity for Law Firm, California Public Utilities Commission

George Mitchell: Reputation at Stake

Editorial

This week’s unilateral announcement by the California Public Utilities Commission to select DLA Piper—a global law firm that has represented the company headed by the current CPUC President Michael Peevy and worked to defend utility companies in major litigation—has sent shock waves throughout California’s legal community, elected leaders, the public and the media.

The fact that none of the parties at the negotiating table–with the exception of the ‘defendant’ in the case, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.–knew of or agreed to mediation nor was a party to the selection of the mediator, has raised ethical and legal questions that stun even the most passive observers in this monumental national public safety case.

The most fundamental basis of mediation is the agreement by all parties that it is necessary, closely followed by the mutual agreement of an unbiased and neutral mediator.  That very principal has been broken in every conceivable fashion by the California Public Utilities Commission and admitted as such to the Associated Press when CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio said in an interview he felt the move to inform PG&E first about the selection of DLA Piper had not been well thought out: “I think we handled this rather poorly. Announcing it before people were brought into it was not a good idea,” Florio said.

In our opinion, it’s beyond not being a ‘good idea,’ it breaks the very foundation of mediation and ruins the integrity of the CPUC process and DLA Piper’s participation.

If DLA Piper and Senator George Mitchell hope to retain any integrity and their reputations in the legal community, they must immediately resign this assignment now they have become aware of the unethical and potentially illegal manner in which they were selected.  We urge them to resign even before the CPUC leadership has the opportunity to rescind their appointment. It is not only the honorable thing to do, but it is the only thing that will preserve their reputation and demonstrate that they are not simply stooges for the utility industry and CPUC President Michael Peevy.

We commend San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera for standing up and demonstrating his leadership in joining the challenge to demand the CPUC decision to unilaterally appoint DLA Piper and Sen. George Mitchell as mediators when they have conflicts not only with their representation of utility companies, but directly with the interests of San Francisco itself.

As always, San Bruno must win praise for being a leader in its attempt to protect public safety and its citizens in opposing this dubious appointment.  And The Utility Reform Network and the California Division of Ratepayers Advocates should be justly proud that they stood up and truly represented the ratepayers in calling attention to this disgraceful appointment of the clearly conflicted DLA Piper and Sen. Mitchell.

We hope for the sake of Sen. George Mitchell and DLA Piper that they resign now that they know their appointment was tainted, their position conflicted, and their very reputation is at stake.

Their integrity is in their hands and their decision.

 

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San Francisco City Attorney Blasts CPUC, PG&E Over DLA Piper Law Firm Selection in San Bruno Blast: Will DLA Piper Recuse Itself?

DLA Piper Law Firm Conflict in CPUC PG&E Case

More Bad News for DLA Piper: Conflict is raised by SF City Attorney. DLA Piper is adverse to S.F. in litigation, claims several utilities among its clients. CPUC Has Refused Comment on Conflict, Call for DLA to Recuse Firm

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today expressed serious concerns about the California Public Utilities Commission’s unilateral appointment of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and DLA Piper to mediate a settlement of enforcement actions against Pacific Gas and Electric Company over the deadly September 2010 explosion of its natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, Calif.

Mitchell currently serves as chairman emeritus of DLA Piper LLC, an international law firm that represents multiple parties currently involved in separate litigation against the City and County of San Francisco. The firm’s utility sector clients include Southern California Edison and Exxon Mobil.

“I have the highest regard for U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and I greatly admire him for a distinguished public service career that includes major diplomatic achievements in Northern Ireland and the Middle East,” said Herrera. “But the legitimacy of an enforcement action involving one of the deadliest gas pipeline catastrophes in California history must be beyond reproach. What’s at stake in these proceedings is the safety of millions of Californians, and they deserve a process untainted by the appearance of utility industry bias. I don’t doubt Sen. Mitchell’s integrity or good intentions.”

Herrera continued “But the fact is, he leads a law firm that is both adverse to San Francisco in litigation, and that represents major gas utilities involved in cases before the CPUC. Moreover, the commission’s decision to unilaterally appoint a mediator raises larger questions about why the CPUC elected to appoint an outside mediator in the first place. It’s possible that mediation could prove helpful. But it is far more important that CPUC live up to its obligations as an industry regulator that protects the public interest.”

Herrera has been sharply critical of the CPUC following revelations from an independent review panel’s 2011 investigation into the San Bruno tragedy, which concluded that the commission’s “culture serves as an impediment to effective regulation,” and which went on to fault state regulators who “did not have the resources to monitor PG&E’s performance in pipeline integrity management adequately or the organizational focus that would have elevated concerns about PG&E’s performance in a meaningful way.” In July 2011, Herrera initiated steps to sue the CPUC along with federal regulators for failing to reasonably enforce federal gas pipeline safety standards as required by the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act. Herrera later elected to omit CPUC as a defendant after the commission showed signs of progress.

DLA Piper LLC contacted Herrera’s office last Friday, before the CPUC announced its appointment of Mitchell to serve as mediator, to inform city lawyers about litigation and other matters in which DLA Piper is currently adverse to the City and County of San Francisco. Those cases include litigation involving hotel chains and airlines.

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San Bruno, Ratepayer Advocates Challenge California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E: Demand CPUC Rescind Appointment of Sen. George Mitchell in Blockbuster PG&E Announcement

A blistering attack by the City of San Bruno, ratepayer advocates and Assemblyman Jerry Hill called into question the California Public Utility’s appointment of Sen. George Mitchell and his law firm DLA Piper as mediators in the PG&E explosion and fire settlement.

Mayor Jim Ruane of San Bruno, Thomas J. Long, Legal Director of consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and Karen Paull, Acting Legal Counsel, The Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) all stood in front of the CPUC this morning and lambasted the “unholy and cozy alliance” between regulator CPUC and the regulated Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The City of San Bruno and consumer advocates signed a letter demanding the CPUC rescind the appointment of Sen. Mitchell immediately because the CPUC  went behind their backs in appointing the mediator to oversee the talks and presented evidence that CPUC and PG&E had ex-parte contact in making the decision. The groups objected to the choice of mediator and said they should have been consulted before regulator CPUC appointed the mediator.

The California Public Utilities Commission had announced Monday that it had appointed former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to serve as mediator in the talks.

San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson and attorneys with San Francisco and the consumer groups said the CPUC had notified PG&E before it appointed Mr. Mitchell, but didn’t notify San Bruno, San Francisco, or ratepayer advocates and officials.

“The unilateral announcement by the CPUC Monday that it had selected a mediator without consulting any of the parties at the negotiating table is consistent with the cozy and unholy relationship between the CPUC and PG&E.  This action is symbolic of the broken, dysfunctional and dishonest relationship between PG&E and the CPUC, the agency that is supposed to be the watchdog and protector of the public’s interest,” said Mayor Ruane of San Bruno.

“San Bruno is rightly concerned that the DLA Piper law firm has previously represented utilities–and that the firm was selected unilaterally by the CPUC and PG&E without the participation of any other party, which goes against the fundamental principles of mediation,” said Mayor Ruane at the press conference today.

“It also is of deep concern to us that DLA Piper has a lengthy list of corporate clients, including Southern California Edison, which the current chairman of the CPUC, Michael Peevey, once headed, according to news media reports about the appointment.

“In order for any mediation to succeed, the mediator will have to assure all the parties to our satisfaction that they have no conflicts, that they can be an unbiased mediator, and that the process will be open, transparent and fair,” Mayor Ruane said.

He continued: “We find that there is too much of a coincidence that one week before the announcement of DLA Piper as mediator, we were told that “a mediator with gravitas” is necessary to settle the negotiations, and now, with the unilateral start of mediation, that PG&E shareholders are paying for the mediation. This leads us, we rightly believe, to the conclusion that the CPUC and PG&E have had improper ex-parte contact as part of this process.

“We state unequivocally for the record that no fine or settlement with PG&E will ever be legitimate or credible without the participation of the City of San Bruno.

“We call into question the integrity of the entire CPUC process that has occurred over the past two years since our community was ripped apart by the negligent and systematic safety failures of PG&E and the inability of the CPUC to independently protect and represent the interests of the residents of San Bruno and the people of California.

“The healing process has physical manifestations in the reconstruction of our Crestmoor neighborhood. However, the scars and horrors of the explosion and fire remain. The City committed to its citizens that it would be an active and relentless participant in all of the investigations that followed.

“We remain at the table to represent the interests of the citizens of San Bruno, the memory of those whose lives were taken by PG&E’s negligence, their families and friends, and equally important, every other city, town and community in the State of California so we can help others prevent what happened to us,” Mayor Ruane concluded.

Mayor Ruane and the consumer advocate attorneys said Sen. Mitchell’s previous work for Southern California Edison, a utility where CPUC Chairman Michael Peevey was formerly an executive, made them question whether he would be impartial.

PG&E and CPUC investigators said Friday that they had started fresh talks to settle the investigators’ allegations that the utility violated numerous state and federal safety rules prior to the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

The CPUC had been holding public hearings following three investigations investigators completed after a section of the utility’s gas pipeline in San Bruno ruptured on Sept. 9, 2010, igniting a giant fireball that killed eight people and injured 58. The fire destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. The neighborhood where the blast occurred hasn’t been fully rebuilt, although some houses have been rebuilt.

Both federal and state investigators blamed PG&E for the blast and found that defects in the utility’s aging pipeline and inadequate pipeline safety management contributed to the pipe’s rupture.

A CPUC judge suspended those hearings last week, after state investigators, who are employed by the CPUC, asked to stop the hearings to allow time for a fresh round of talks with PG&E.

Members of the CPUC have said they plan to order fines and possibly other penalties against PG&E over the San Bruno disaster.

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Communications Workers of America in California Question CWA Union Leadership Over Failure to Sign Contract with AT&T

 

There is growing dissent among California Communications Workers of America against their union leaders’ intransigence and failure to approve a new contract with AT&T.

While every single CWA District and Local in the United States, with the exception of Connecticut and California, has signed a new contract deal with pay increases and generous health care benefits, California AT&T workers are starting to strike back at their own union and demand settlement.

Just this week, more than 20,000 AT&T workers in California, Nevada and Connecticut started two-day strikes Tuesday to protest what the union called harassment by the company. But a number of union members opposed the two day strike and question their union leadership’s action, which cost them two days of pay.

The phone company is negotiating new contracts with the Communications Workers of America. The company is restricting standard bargaining-support activities such as wearing union stickers and buttons, said Libby Sayre, president of the CWA district covering California and Nevada.

The contracts expired in April, and negotiations have been going on since February.

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. is the country’s largest employer of unionized workers. About 140,000 of its 256,000 employees are union members.

California AT&T workers are quietly saying they don’t care about the ‘sticker issue’ raised by CWA District 9 President Libby Sayre and are pushing back at union leadership and demanding an immediate conclusion to contract negotiations with AT&T.

“We are at odds with our own union leadership, not with AT&T,” one worker, requesting anonymity, said.  “The deal that was accepted by AT&T workers in other states is a good one and we want it here, too.”

The growing dissent by CWA workers against their leadership was visible in northern California this week as a number of members protested the two day strike and instead held signs protesting against CWA’s leadership, holding signs that read: “Our Union Has Us Striking Over a Stupid Sticker!” and “We Just Lost 2 Days Pay: Thanks CWA.”

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Blu Homes Protest Greets 30,000 at Pacific Coast Builders Conference Opening Day in San Francisco

The 30,000 attendees today at the annual Pacific Coast Builders Conference (PCBC) were greeted by a major protest from the employees of a green home building company seeking unionization of its northern California production facility.

More than 100 Blu Homes employees and members of the Carpenters Union Local 180 armed with giant 30-foot tall inflatable effigies of The Grim Reaper and a pig leafleted outside the largest gathering of the home building industry in the western United States today, the opening day of PCBC.

Blu Homes’ production workers are in a labor dispute with Blu Homes after company management has refused to recognize the union even after 38 of 45 workers at the company’s Vallejo signed a petition this year demanding representation by the Carpenters Union. More than 17 unfair Labor Charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board against Blu Homes.

The Carpenters Union charges that Blu Homes’ President Bill Haney and his behavior toward its workers and environmental practices do not match the pro-environment and pro-worker projects that have marked Mr. Haney’s career or the efforts of people on the company’s Board of Advisers, including Robert Kennedy, Jr., whose father played a pivotal role in the unionization of California farm workers.

Blu Homes Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that designs and builds pre-fabricated single family green homes, opened a new facility inside Vallejo’s historic Factory Building 680 on Lennar Mare Island in December 2011.

Shortly thereafter, workers approached Carpenters Local 180, asking for help in resolving issues of poor bathroom facilities, lack of gender specific bathrooms, job safety and the lack of a retirement plan.  The overriding factor was a lack of respect for the workers from management, according to Carpenters representatives.

Haney has been described in the NY Times as one of America’s leading environmental entrepreneurs.  In addition to his business and investment successes that made him a multi-millionaire, he is also a documentary filmmaker, taking his camera to places where social injustice was met with resistance by those on the ground.

From the Dominican Republic, where he focused on the struggle of Haitian sugar workers in “The Price of Sugar,” to the mountains of West Virginia, where he chronicled a community’s fight against mountain top removal mining, Haney’s films emphasize the power of ordinary people. Along the way, he has spoken forcefully against the evils of corporate greed, against environmental degradation and union busting, and for the powers of workers organizing into a union.

Haney, being interviewed about his documentary, “The Price of Sugar” and the struggle of Haitian sugar workers in the Dominican Republic said: “…one of the most interesting things that took place for me was to be present at the birth of a union. It was extraordinary to see the power and vitality of a union and how desperate these workers were without it and what improvements could be ripped from the plantations owner’s hands if there was one…”

Haney, commenting on Massey Energy and the fight against mountaintop removal mining: “…you know, there are miners working there who are getting a pathetic fraction of what they would have gotten even 10 years ago when they had protection with the unions. So, they’ve destroyed the unions, they’ve beaten up on the environment, they’ve violated federal health and safety standards, to what appears to be really the enrichment of a very small number of people, primarily the executives of the company.”

The Carpenters’ union thinks Haney is a hypocrite. Haney has positioned himself as a champion of the environment, an ally of the poor, and a defender of unions. So one must ask: why can’t he live up to his own words at his own company?

The Blu Home workers in Vallejo have overwhelmingly petitioned for union representation and they are being denied this right by the very same man that encouraged unionization in the Dominican Republic and in the hills of West Virginia. That’s not irony–that’s hypocrisy, some on the picket line said today.

In March 2012, Blu Homes raised $25 Million in Capital from new investors Brightpath Capital Partners and The Skagen Group in the Netherlands. According to the company, this brings total investment in Blu Homes to $50 million since 2007.

One can only hope that Mr. Haney and Robert F. Kenney Jr. and the other board members will recognize the right of workers to organize and have decent and safe working conditions and benefit from the growth of Blu Homes.

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