Penny pincher

Nov 28, 2012

Gov. Jerry Brown, fresh from his tax-initiative victory in the November elections, pushed his message of frugality by taking a whack at the UC Regents for approving a $50,000 pay hike for the new chancellor of the Berkeley campus.


From the Chronicle's Nanette Asimov: "Brown, a regent himself, joined the panel in unanimously approving Nicholas Dirks, a scholar and executive vice president at Columbia University, as chancellor of UC Berkeley beginning in June."


"But the governor balked at approving Dirks' $486,800 annual salary, which is $50,000 more than what current Chancellor Robert Birgeneau earns. The increase "does not fit within the spirit of servant leadership that I think will be required over the next several years," Brown told the regents before their vote."


"The pay hike, from private donations, is a raise of more than 11 percent. By contrast, the nation's gross domestic product rose by less than 2 percent last year - a fact not lost on the governor."


Bad business decisions, including a struggle to deal with cash-flow problems and a reluctance to lay off people at her struggling company, led in part to the woes of Democratic campaign accountant Kinde Durkee, who is expected to get years in prison for fraud.

From the Bee's Torey Van Oot: "According to the filing, the trouble started in 1999 when Durkee assumed control of the campaign bookkeeping company where she worked after the firm's owner died. When financial problems at what became Durkee & Associates, including Durkee's reluctance to lay off staff and the firm's responsibility for paying fines that resulted from sloppy or incomplete filings, led to "serious cash flow issues,' Durkee began "borrowing" funds from one account to cover bills and make sure other clients' accounts could meet payment obligations and remain open."


"Durkee also faced personal financial pressure because her husband was unemployed and she was caring for elderly parents, her attorney wrote."


"Federal prosecutors are expected to ask a judge to sentence Durkee to eight years behind bars. Nixon wrote in the defense response that his client feels genuinely remorseful and believes the recommendation represents a "just and appropriate sentence."


A Texas-based oil firm has scrapped plans for a $500 million tanker terminal in the Port of Los Angeles, citing problems with the industry's economy.


From Brian Sumers in the Torrance Daily Breeeze: "Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline had planned to construct a new berth for large oil tankers. Oil was to be offloaded and sent through a newly built pipeline into nearby storage tanks. Port officials approved the project in 2008 and were notified about the company's changing plan earlier this month, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. The project began in 2003."


"The Port of Los Angeles and Plains All American had split the $3 million cost of an environmental impact report, but the port will not be repaid for its share, Sanfield said."


"Plains All American officials did not return phone calls. But in a release posted on its website, the company cited a handful of reasons for the change, including project delays, the economic downturn, permitting hurdles and a shift toward increased domestic oil production."


Speaking of oil, inquiring senators want to know: Did the industry manipulate the market and gouge consumers by forcing the price of gasoline to hit record levels? The senators include Feinstein and Boxer of California, along with the senators from Oregon and Washington.


From the Press-Enterprise's Ben Goad: "In a letter sent Tuesday, Nov. 27, to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the contingent of six U.S. senators, all Democrats, urged the Justice Department’s Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to conduct a “refinery-by-refinery level probe” of the May and October price increases."


"Earlier this month, a report from McCullough Research, a Portland-based energy consulting firm, concluded that industry explanations for the price spikes were contradicted by emissions data. Specifically, the research indicated that some West Coast oil refineries may have been producing oil last May despite public reports that they were shuttered for maintenance. Also, both spikes came while crude oil, the main driver of gasoline prices, was decreasing, the senators note in their request for an investigation..."


“Given the hit to American families and businesses from gasoline price spikes, we urge the Working Group to use every existing authority and regulation to identify, stop, and prosecute any and all instances of false reporting, manipulation, or anticompetitive behavior in the West Coast petroleum wholesale markets.”


Online retailer Amazon, which for years shunned a physical presence in California, is opening its third distribution center in the Golden State, this time in Tracy south of Stockton.


From the LAT's Marc Lifsher: "The new operation is close to three major freeways -- interstates 5, 205 and 580 -- in a distant bedroom community for the San Francisco Bay Area south of Sacramento. The facility will be only about 30 miles from a second Amazon center being built in Patterson to the south."


"Last month, the Seattle company cut the ribbon on a 950,000-square-foot facility in the city of San Bernardino, which started filling orders before the holiday shopping season.

Amazon did not respond to queries Tuesday seeking confirmation of plans for the Tracy distribution center."


"But Tracy Mayor Brent Ives said that grading at the million-square-foot industrial park site already has been permitted and the developer expects to complete the project by August or September of next year."

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