Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Must Read: Legislative Analyst Targets Pensions; Trib Tower in Receivership

By Robert Gammon
Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 7:01 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. The nonpartisan Legislative Analysts’ Office is urging the governor and state lawmakers to address California’s “unsustainable” public-employee pension benefits, the SacBee reports. “We are headed to a place where government employees will be the only people in society who have these sorts of retirement benefits,” Jason Sisney, director of state finance for the Legislative Analyst's Office, told the newspaper. "That is troubling." Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders so far have resisted targeting generous public-employee pension packages as they attempt to tackle the state’s $25 billion deficit. But Republicans may demand that the pension problem be addressed in exchange for Brown’s plan to put a tax measure on the June ballot.

2. The iconic Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland has fallen into receivership because the owners defaulted on their mortgage, the Trib reports. The 22-story building has struggled since the newspaper moved out in 2007, and is now 85 percent vacant.

3. Even though federal regulators had warned PG&E about Bay Area gas lines with old, substandard welds, the utility repeatedly spiked pressure in those lines in order to avoid costly inspections, the Chron reports. Critics say PG&E was “playing games with public safety.”

4. Retailers are now prohibited from asking customers for their zip codes when making credit card purchases under a new ruling from the California Supreme Court, the Chron reports. The court said the practice of requesting zip codes violates a 1990 consumer privacy law. Retailers asked for zip codes for marketing purposes. The court ruling does not apply to online purchases or electronic gas pumps that ask for zip codes.

5. BART riders increasingly say the system is too dirty, too loud, and too expensive, the Chron reports, citing a new agency survey. Overall, however, 82 percent of BART riders gave the system at least a satisfactory rating and ridership is up.

6. Oakland police are investigating a report that a 7-year-old boy was sexually assaulted at a Boys and Girls Club by other children, the Trib reports. OPD says there are five suspects, all under the age of 12. Counselors at the club say they were unaware of the alleged attack.

7. Federal prosecutors dropped six of the eleven felony charges filed against ex-San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds, the Chron reports. The dropped charges were the result of a refusal by Bonds’ former trainer to testify. The homerun king is scheduled to go on trial for the remaining five perjury charges in March.

8. The number of homeless families in Oakland and Alameda County dropped substantially in the past few years, the Trib reports. In Oakland, the number of homeless families plummeted by 41 percent, and countywide, it declined 13 percent. The decline bucked a nationwide trend that saw the number of homeless families increase by 4 percent. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan credited the decrease to Bay Area agencies treating homelessness as a regional issue.

9. And mortgage rates crept back above 5 percent in another sign that the housing market may not recover anytime soon, AP reports. The average, 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage hit a 40-year-low of 4.17 percent in November.

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