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Newsletter: California Inc.: Billions of dollars on the line at ballot box

It's not just the presidency at stake. Californians will vote on a school bond and extending a "temporary" tax hike, among other financial matters.
It’s not just the presidency at stake. Californians will vote on a school bond and extending a “temporary” tax hike, among other financial matters.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, and here’s a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Trading resumes Monday after yet another indication that the economy is doing surprisingly well. Employers added 161,000 jobs in October, and the unemployment rate dipped back down to 4.9%, the Labor Department said Friday. There also was some welcome news on workers’ pay, which accelerated last month. The average hourly earnings of all private-sector workers rose by 10 cents to $25.92 in October — up 2.8% from a year ago.

LOOKING AHEAD

Home loans: The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments over whether cities can force banks to pay for damages from urban blight linked to alleged discriminatory mortgage-lending practices. The city of Miami says Bank of America and Wells Fargo made “predatory” loans that ended in foreclosure, leaving homes vacant and deteriorating, reducing property tax revenue and increasing city costs. The banks say Miami has no right under the Fair Housing Act to sue.

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Election day: If you haven’t voted early, you can take the traditional route and troop to the ballot box on Tuesday. Remember, there’s a lot more than the presidential race at stake. Californians are voting on a $9-billion bond measure for school construction (Proposition 51), an extension of a “temporary” income tax increase (Proposition 55), a boost in the cigarette tax (Proposition 56) and whether plastic bags will be banned at grocery stores statewide (Proposition 67). Los Angeles County voters are deciding whether to raise the sales tax to pay for transit and road improvements (Measure M). City voters are being asked to require developers to build more affordable housing (Measure JJJ).

Driving over Kanan: The 13th annual Billboard Touring Conference, an event aimed at music-industry professionals, will be Wednesday and Thursday at the SLS Beverly Hills hotel. Forums will address ticket scalping and pricing issues, risks of terrorism at music events and the offering of “enhanced experiences” to concertgoers. Noted DJ A-Trak will join a panel of industry agents and buyers to discuss emerging markets such as Pakistan, the Middle East, South Africa, Bali and Cuba.

Film festival: The 30th edition of AFI Fest will open Thursday with the world premiere of Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The film is the first directed by Beatty since 1998’s political satire “Bulworth” and his first time back on screen since 2001’s “Town & Country.” The American Film Institute festival will run through Nov. 17, when it will close with a showing of “Patriots Day,” an account of the Boston Marathon bombing starring Mark Wahlberg.

Trump suit: A hearing in the upcoming fraud trial over Donald Trump’s Trump University is scheduled for Thursday in San Diego. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over the case, is expected to rule on a request from Trump’s attorneys to exclude evidence relating to the Republican candidate’s presidential campaign. Plaintiffs in the case say they received little insight or knowledge after paying as much as $35,000 to attend seminars. The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 28.

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THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section looks at the mess caused by the sudden collapse two months ago of Hanjin Shipping, which recently saw its last ship set sail from Long Beach after dropping off a load of cargo. The South Korean company’s bankruptcy is forcing big chains to spend piles of cash to get their goods to stores in time for the holiday shopping season, while some mom-and-pop shops will have less to offer. And, once again, an unexpected disruption has highlighted the intricate links in the supply chain that feeds America’s consumer machine.

STORY LINES

Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

Dodgers channel suit: The U.S. Justice Department took the extraordinary step of suing AT&T, alleging that its DirecTV television unit orchestrated an illegal campaign to block wide carriage of the television channel owned by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The lawsuit accused DirecTV of being a ringleader in an effort to make sure other pay-TV companies would refuse to carry SportsNet LA.

Lawsuit ramifications: AT&T’s hopes of completing its $85.4-billion purchase of Time Warner depend on convincing federal regulators that they should allow one of the nation’s telecommunications giants to become even bigger. Getting hit with a collusion lawsuit doesn’t help make that case. Meanwhile, legal experts say the suit’s merits are underwhelming — and even odd.

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Widening probe: Wells Fargo confirmed that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has joined the growing number of state and federal agencies investigating the company’s sham-accounts scandal. The SEC, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, the offices of state attorneys general, congressional committees and others, have “undertaken formal or informal inquiries, investigations or examinations arising out of certain sales practices of the company,” the San Francisco bank said.

Chinese bandstand: Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group is officially buying Dick Clark Productions for about $1 billion, marking its first play in the TV production industry and expanding its reach in Hollywood. Wanda, led by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, plans to acquire 100% of the TV production company behind the Golden Globe Awards broadcast, the company said.

New digs: Toy maker MGA Entertainment is relocating the house that Bratz built. The Van Nuys company, famous for creating the pouty and provocative dolls that challenged the leggy Barbie, is breaking ground on what will be its new headquarters in a former Los Angeles Times printing plant in Chatsworth. When construction is completed, MGA will be at the center of an ambitious development project that will transform 24 acres into a sprawling campus with workforce housing and Silicon Valley-like amenities such as a dog park.

WHAT WE’RE READING

And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

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All smiles: The Hollywood Reporter examines Randall Stephenson’s charm offensive as the AT&T CEO sets about making the entertainment industry comfortable with his company’s takeover of Time Warner. “At least for now, Stephenson seems to be saying the right things publicly and privately.”

Bad decision? A contrarian take from Quartz, which says Steve Jobs’ worst decision was promoting Tim Cook up the Apple corporate ladder. The company’s current CEO is “ill-equipped to make the right calls to bring a revolutionary product to market.”

Looking ahead: Bloomberg takes an in-depth look at Michael Ferro, the head of L.A. Times parent Tronc, following the collapse of a takeover bid by Gannett. “Now the spotlight is back on Ferro and his vision for saving journalism. His supporters think he’s up to it.”

Our bad: An eye-opening story from the Atlantic, which lays out how much climate-change damage each American does annually. “All in all, the average American person reduces the ice cap around the north pole by about 645 square feet (60 square meters) every year.” I hope you’re happy with yourself.

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Virtual growth: Fast Company says the market for much-hyped virtual reality should take off by the middle of the next decade. It cites a report predicting that VR business will be “very modest” through 2018, but then will start booming and reach $38 billion in annual revenue by 2026.

SPARE CHANGE

Maybe virtual reality will take off, maybe it won’t. I’ve tried it, and it left me reaching for a barf bag (I’m sensitive). The VR industry sells itself as the next step in digital interaction. But I think we’re all waiting for this. Or this. Or heck, even this.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.

David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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