A round-table gathering of seven business and economic leaders from Los Angeles County and the region gathered Wednesday in Pasadena to address concerns about the economy, energy prices and the recent closure of 33 IndyMac banks throughout California.
The forum was organized by Rep. Adam Schiff, who said its impetus was grounded in a recent telephone town hall meeting that he held in which “80[%] to 90% of the questions that were raised had to do with the economy.”
“There’s a level of insecurity in this country that we haven’t seen in years, maybe in decades,” said Schiff, adding that the primary factors were the slumping housing market and soaring energy costs based on “the world’s increasing demand, instability and the finite supply.”
John Bovenzi, chief executive of IndyMac Federal Bank, participated in the forum and answered many of the concerns expressed by constituents.
Bovenzi, formerly chief executive of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in Washington, D.C., assumed control of the troubled financial institution following the closure of its 33 California branches after depositors withdrew more than $1.3 billion from their accounts.
Also participating were economic and housing experts from USC and business leaders from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Brenda Cox was one of about a dozen people in the audience who sought advice from Bovenzi after she lost more than $100,000 after her accounts in IndyMac were seized by federal regulators.
“What would you do in my situation?” she asked Bovenzi.
Bovenzi staff members were on hand to counsel troubled IndyMac customers in the hallway while the forum continued.
As it did, others asked more general questions about pervasive economic ills aimed at the panel’s experts, who sought to assuage the residents’ concerns.
“They’re trying to tell us there will be a chicken in every pot, that everything will be all right, that there is prosperity around the corner,” Pasadena resident Quincy O’ Neal said. “The fraud here is in not talking about the root of the problem and bankruptcy reorganization.
“It’s condescending and misleading.”
Earlier, Lawrence Harris, a finance and business economy professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, had told the crowd that while the future of the economy is “uncertain,” he is “broadly optimistic,” owing partly to action he believes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will take to avoid factors that led to the Great Depression in 1929.
While the economy featured prominently on the minds of many residents attending the forum, the prolonged war in Iraq, high energy costs and job outsourcing were also hot topics at the event at the Pasadena Senior Center.
The forum, which featured a packed crowd of more than 200, allowed residents to air personal grievances about widely held anger with the war in Iraq that has so far cost the country more than $547 billion and killed 4,145 troops and up to 94,557 civilians, according to iraqbodycount.org, since March 2003.
One resident seethed at Schiff’s “betrayal of the Democratic Party,” while others railed against the money spent on the prolonged conflict.
“I’ve been urging us to draw down our presence in Iraq,” Schiff said.
Schiff and others on the panel also answered concerns about outsourcing jobs to China and high energy costs.
While Schiff said that “we need an Apollo-like commitment to wean ourselves off of foreign sources of oil” and said he continues to push for “incentivizing the creation of jobs” in the U.S., Harris said that as jobs have been transferred out of the country, foreign investment in alternative energy sources, such as wind turbines dotting certain sections of the country, have spurred economic development in the U.S.
Despite grumbling from some people, including O’ Neal, who felt his concerns went unanswered, others felt the panel’s breadth of expertise helped ease concerns about several issues.
“There was such a wide range of problems,” Alhambra resident John Foulkes said. “It was very informative.”
Education framework bill passes Assembly
The state Assembly passed an educational measure on Monday intended to establish a basic framework for higher education.
The bill, one of the last to be authored by nearly termed out state Sen. Jack Scott, creates a system of check marks for higher education institutions to abide by as they make budget and policy decisions.
The legislation identifies specific indicators to be reported by state colleges and universities every two years in order to track progress toward basic goals, officials said.
“We have limited data on how our state colleges and universities are performing,” Scott said in a statement.
“We need to aggressively plan for the future in order to meet the needs of an expanding state and expanding economy, but in order to do that we need to have a way to measure how well we’re doing.
“We need to establish an accountability framework for higher education — that would detail things like transfer rates, access and retention, graduation rates in order to help make important fiscal and policy decisions.”
The bill, SB 325, was hailed by Scott’s staff members as his “landmark legislation” from a senator who chairs the Senate education committee and will assume leadership of the California Community College system on Jan. 1.
SB 325 will be signed into law after lawmakers agree on a means to balance the $15.3-billion budget deficit.
Scott’s last two bills in the queue, SB 946 — which would expand the California State University early assessment program to include the state’s community colleges and SB 1746 — which aims to modify adoptions requirements — are sitting in the Senate undergoing minor technical changes before becoming law.
The Assembly and Senate were scheduled to adjourn today, but ongoing budget negotiations have protracted the 2007-08 term and could keep both in session toward the end of the month and possibly into September, officials said.
Scott is set to retire from the Legislature after 12 years in the Senate and Assembly on Dec. 1.
Republicans to hold two events locally
The Glendale Burbank Republican Assembly is gearing up for the upcoming state and federal election with a Summer Party and Campaign Kick-Off event on Sept. 6 at the home of Tony and Carol Sardo, 1970 Deermont Road, Glendale.
Admission to the event, slated to start at 5:30 p.m., ranges from $30 to $50 and will feature three local Republican candidates for office: Jane Barnett, Teddy Choi and Charles Han.
Barnett is running against Assemblyman Paul Krekorian for his seat in the 43rd District, and Choi is opposing Democrat Carol Liu for the open state Senate seat in the 21st District that is now filled by Scott. Han, a financial advisor who lives in Burbank, is set to challenge Rep. Adam Schiff for his 29th Congressional District seat.
Money raised at the event will not be spent on the candidates but on the group’s expenses, officials said.
The local Republican group is also hosting its monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Clancy’s Crab Broiler, 219 N. Central Ave.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich is scheduled to speak at the event about general issues facing the region, officials said.
The event is free, but there is a $20 optional dinner menu. It is open to the public.
For more information, e-mail Todd Hunt at email@example.com.
— Compiled by Jeremy Oberstein