Natural gas firms want you to believe they fight for racial justice

The letter to Mexico’s energy minister offered a glowing review of a fossil fuel project in Baja California.

Writing in July, three U.S. governors and the chair of the Ute Indian Tribe praised the Energía Costa Azul project — which was seeking approval from the Mexican government — as “one of the most promising [liquefied natural gas] export facilities on the Pacific Coast.”

The letter was arranged by Western States and Tribal Nations, an advocacy group that says it was created in part to “promote tribal self-determination” by creating easier access to overseas markets for gas extracted from Native American lands.

But internal documents shared with The Times reveal that the group’s main financial backers are county governments and fossil fuel companies — including Sempra Energy of San Diego, which received approval this month to build the $1.9-billion facility in Baja. In fact, the group has just one tribal member, the Ute Indian Tribe.

Western States and Tribal Nations isn’t the only effort by fossil fuel proponents to cast themselves as allies of communities of color and defenders of their financial well-being.

The goal is to bulwark oil and gas against ambitious climate change policies by claiming the moral high ground — even as those fuels kindle a global crisis that disproportionately harms people who aren’t white.

Recent examples abound.

As protests rocked the United States after the police killing of George Floyd, a government relations firm whose clients include oil and gas companies told news media that the mayor of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was “getting a lot of heat” from the NAACP over a proposal to limit gas hookups in new buildings. That was proved false when the local NAACP chapter said it supported the policy.

Around the same time, Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation wrote a letter to federal officials complaining about the refusal of several banks to finance oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, writing that the banks were harming Alaska Natives by “openly discriminating against investment in some of the most economically disadvantaged regions of America.”

Some of the most contentious debates involve natural gas. The fuel is less polluting than coal, but an international team of scientists reported last year that planet-warming emissions from gas are rising faster than coal emissions are falling. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal AGU Advances found that replacing coal with gas might do little good for the climate.

Gas companies say their product is cleaner than coal and will only get cleaner as they blend renewable fuels into their pipelines. Gas also benefits low-income families by keeping energy prices low, supporters say.

In recent months, California officials have faced criticism from some lawmakers and Black and Latino groups who say the state has focused too much on reducing pollution and not enough on the economic impacts of climate policies.

“It’s not enough to continue to say, ‘Poor people want zero-emission cars.’ That’s the farthest thing from their mind. They want a roof over their head. They want a safe neighborhood to live in. They want a good school to send their kids to,” state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who is Black, told the California Air Resources Board during a hearing on race and equity last month. “I don’t know a single person who wants dirty water, dirty air, dirty soil. But that’s not what keeps these folks up at night.”

The 20-megawatt Maricopa West solar project, surrounded by almond groves, was built on Kern County farmland permitted for solar power by Maricopa Orchards.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Natural gas advocates also say eliminating the fuel would require people to give up their gas stoves. Sempra subsidiary Southern California Gas Co. has seized on this idea, using gas cooking as a talking point to foster opposition to all-electric building policies, which have been passed by nearly 40 cities and counties.

The company’s argument has resonated in the San Gabriel Valley, where some Chinese restaurant owners worry their signature dishes won’t be the same if not cooked over a flame.

Fossil fuel companies are ignoring the ways communities of color and low-income families are disproportionately harmed by polluted air and water, deadlier heat waves, more punishing droughts and other consequences of burning coal, oil and gas, said Leah Stokes, a UC Santa Barbara political scientist who recently wrote a book about utility industry lobbying.

The national uprising over racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic have shone a spotlight on those injustices. Black and Latino people are more likely to suffer from the virus, and research suggests that greater exposure to air pollution — resulting in part from decades of racist housing and environmental policies — may be one reason why.

“There’s definitely a marketing campaign to gaslight everybody, literally gaslight them, by saying, ‘If we do the [clean energy] transition, it’s going to harm frontline Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities,’” Stokes said.

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Tribal self-determination

For decades, energy companies built polluting power plants in communities of color and extracted fossil fuels from tribal lands with little regard for local health effects. Today, they’re working to build diverse political coalitions to preserve the fossil fuel economy, while making the case that their products are good for the pocketbooks of people of color.

The main purpose of Western States and Tribal Nations is lobbying for gas export terminals. The group says on its website that many tribal nations “seek economic prosperity and tribal self-determination through natural gas.”

“The Ute Indian Tribe primarily funds its government through its oil and gas revenue,” the group says.

Internal documents obtained through public records requests by the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewables watchdog organization, show that all but one of the group’s members are state and local government agencies or energy companies.

In addition to Sempra, corporate backers include Virginia-based Dominion Energy, which stands to benefit from West Coast export terminals because it owns a gas exploration and production firm with operations in several western states.

Bryson Hull — a vice president at HBW Resources, the Houston-based consulting firm that runs Western States and Tribal Nations — said in an email that the group is “organized and led by state, county and sovereign tribal governments to help aid rural economic development.” He said membership “naturally includes the companies whose investments will make that happen.”

Ute officials declined to comment for this story. They asked that all questions be directed to Western States and Tribal Nations.

An aerial view of Sempra Energy’s Cameron liquefied natural gas facility on the Gulf Coast in Hackberry, La., in 2019.

(Sempra Energy )

Hull said the Ute tribe — which has about 3,000 members, many of whom live on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah — “explicitly asked for ‘Tribal Nations’ to be included in the organization’s name to reflect the fact that they and other tribes are sovereign nations under the law and should be accorded that status, especially given the historical injustices they have suffered.”

The Utes aren’t the only tribe whose leaders see fossil fuels as an economic imperative. At the same time, Indigenous climate activists have become an increasingly powerful force in recent years, protesting pipelines and demanding cleaner energy.

To Kyle Whyte, a professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the existence of a group like Western States and Tribal Nations is no surprise. He said there’s a “long history of energy companies and energy interests trying to make connections with tribal sovereignty.”

“There’s this misconception that if tribes could do fracking and burn coal and there were no limits or regulation or anything, that they would just do it, that that’s the economy we’ve always wanted. And that’s just not true,” Whyte said.

In Oregon, Western States and Tribal Nations urged officials to support the proposed Jordan Cove gas export terminal, despite opposition from several tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Nowhere in the group’s media blitz did it mention it had previously received funding from Pembina Pipeline Corp., the Canadian company behind the $10-billion project.

Hull confirmed the company was a member in 2019 but said it didn’t renew this year.

“Whether Pembina is a member or not, WSTN has and will continue to advocate for the Jordan Cove [liquefied natural gas] project because it’s one the few economically viable options for West Coast natural gas exports,” he said.

Pembina didn’t respond to requests for comments. Neither did Dominion.

“As a general matter, we support bringing domestic natural gas resources to global energy markets,” Sempra spokeswoman Paty Ortega Mitchell said in an email.

Sempra’s Energía Costa Azul facility in Baja California, Mexico, can already accept natural gas imports. The company hopes to upgrade the facility to allow for export of liquefied natural gas.

(Sempra Energy )

Financial contributions

Member companies with over $1 billion in revenue, such as Dominion and Sempra, are expected to provide just $20,000 annually to Western States and Tribal Nations, internal documents show.

Still, small expenditures can have an impact — either to build support or to preempt opposition.

Take Pacoima Beautiful, which fights for cleaner air in the mostly Latino, low-income northeast San Fernando Valley. Between 2014 and 2018, the environmental justice group took $107,750 from Sempra subsidiary SoCalGas.

In August 2016, Pacoima Beautiful’s executive director, Veronica Padilla, wrote a letter to state officials in support of reopening the gas company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility, which a year earlier had sprung the worst methane leak in U.S. history.

“We have full confidence in the ability of SoCalGas to deliver resources in a safe, reliable and non-hazardous manner,” she wrote.

Padilla now says she was reluctantly doing the company’s bidding. Eventually her group stopped accepting SoCalGas funding, and today it’s pushing Los Angeles officials to shut down a gas plant whose fuel is supplied by SoCalGas. The city-owned plant recently leaked methane for at least three years, raising concerns about potential health effects to nearby residents.

“Other environmental justice groups continue to take the [gas company] money and say, ‘Let’s do something good with their money.’ But I think it’s important for us to take a stand and just say no,” Padilla said.

SoCalGas representatives urged Pacoima Beautiful to reconsider, Padilla said. She recalled a gas company employee discussing efforts to replace gas stoves with electric alternatives, and asking her: “How are people going to warm up their tortillas?”

“That was so disturbing to me,” she said.

SoCalGas representatives declined to comment on Padilla’s account or answer any other questions for this story.

Two SoCalGas executives did, however, send a letter to The Times’ owner and executive editor suggesting questions posed by the newspaper smacked of racism.

Andres Ramirez, policy director of Pacoima Beautiful, stands outside Valley Generating Station on Sept. 17, 2020.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Time)

The Oct. 23 letter was signed by gas company vice presidents Mitch Mitchell and Andy Carrasco. The Times, they wrote, “has repeatedly asked us, and our community partners, if our support for their work involves some sort of quid pro quo. Not surprisingly, these questions seem pointedly directed at Black, Latino, and Native American organizations.”

“Our support for many community partners dates back decades, as do our relationships with community leaders across Southern California,” they wrote. “And yes, we speak from life experience as men of color, one African-American and one Latino.”

“We share the goals of helping California decarbonize and move to a cleaner energy future,” they added.

SoCalGas has worked to bring non-white voices to its cause, seeking out Latino leaders to support a pro-gas advocacy group it helped create and recruiting Latino and Asian American politicians to its campaign for natural gas-fueled trucks at the L.A. and Long Beach ports.

The fossil fuel industry’s financial assistance and efforts to build support aren’t limited to communities of color. SoCalGas made $7.7 million in charitable and non-charitable contributions last year.

Those contributions included $10,500 to the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California, $10,000 to the California Latino Leadership Institute and $28,000 to the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce — all of whom wrote letters supporting a SoCalGas proposal that would bolster the company’s preferred climate solution, renewable gas.

Tracy Stanhoff, president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California, said many American Indians and Alaska Natives can’t afford higher energy bills or don’t have access to modern energy infrastructure. She described renewable gas as a potentially cheaper alternative to the all-electric buildings preferred by climate advocates.

“We are for clean energy, don’t get me wrong. We’re stewards of the land,” Stanhoff said.

Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have pushed back against the cost argument. They’ve made the case that electric heat pumps will be cheaper to operate than gas furnaces in the long run and have supported government incentives to reduce any up-front costs to low-income households from transitioning to electric appliances.

Gas companies are presenting a “false choice” between clean power and affordable power, said Carmelita Miller, who leads the energy equity program at the Oakland-based Greenlining Institute. The group argued in a report last year that shifting to all-electric homes can benefit low-income families by creating good-paying jobs and reducing indoor air pollution from gas stoves.

“Our people deserve to live in an environment that is clean and pollution-free,” Miller said.

Who speaks for people of color?

As California officials ramped up efforts to phase out gas appliances and oil-powered cars in recent months, a group called United Latinos Vote pushed back, arguing that people of color would be harmed by rising costs of energy and homeownership.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance and a member of Congress, Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro), questioned who was funding the Berkeley-based advocacy group — especially as its arguments were echoed by fossil fuel proponents.

United Latinos Vote made its first public foray into climate policy in San Luis Obispo, where its executive director, Robert Apodaca, wrote that a plan to promote construction of all-electric buildings would “disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and communities of color.” The group also bought a full-page ad in The Times, which said policies favored by climate activists would “hurt the real people and communities we represent,” namely “low-income and ethnic minority populations.”

“There are a lot of inequities in the world, and now the poor people are being penalized,” Apodaca said in an interview.

Homes overlook the Inglewood Oil Field in the Los Angeles area.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

But groups such as the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network say the claims made by United Latinos Vote don’t represent the majority of their communities.

A poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California this summer found that 52% of Latinos and 46% of Black people are willing to pay more for solar and wind energy, compared with 42% of white people. Additionally, 70% of Latinos and 65% of Black people said stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost, compared with 53% of white people.

Those numbers track with other polls finding Latinos and Black people are more likely to be concerned about climate change than white people.

Gladys Limón, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, called United Latinos Vote an “industry interest group that describes itself as equity-based and cloaks itself by stealing the racial justice language of the movement.”

“The fossil fuel-based economy is hurting our health,” Limón said.

It’s not clear who’s funding United Latinos Vote, although the group’s political action committee recently received $3,400 each from two major oil and gas companies, Chevron and Phillips 66. Apodaca said the gas industry isn’t funding his group’s energy advocacy, but he declined to clarify who is, saying only that backers include “various industries.”

Fossil fuel proponents have embraced the group’s agenda. United Latinos Vote’s arguments have been amplified in email blasts and on social media by a SoCalGas-funded advocacy group and by Frank Maisano, a media specialist at the Houston-based government relations firm Bracewell LLP who works with SoCalGas.

It was also Maisano who falsely claimed the NAACP opposed San Luis Obispo’s all-electric buildings plan. He blamed “several sources” who turned out to be wrong, although he wouldn’t say if he was acting on behalf of a particular client.

Even though it wasn’t the case in San Luis Obispo, it’s not uncommon for NAACP chapters to receive fossil fuel money and go to bat for policies favored by the industry. The national NAACP released a report last year titled “Fossil Fueled Foolery,” listing the “top 10 manipulation tactics of the fossil fuel industry” and warning local chapters not to fall for them.

The report is unequivocal: When fossil fuel companies “make the case that the benefits of using fossil fuels far outweigh the harms” — or are caught “leveraging their wealth to create a false appearance of community support” — don’t believe them.


L.A. County restaurant order has owners worried they won’t survive

For Jacob Shaw and other restaurant owners in Los Angeles, the holiday season was going to be a welcome boost to business.

And even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted in-person dining to outdoor seating, there was hope that the next few weeks would help recoup some of the massive losses they’ve experienced.

Then coronavirus cases started surging, prompting L.A. County officials to announce that starting Wednesday night, restaurants and other eateries must once again stop in-person dining outdoors and instead provide only takeout and delivery.

“It’s not good, but there’s nothing we can do,” said Shaw, an owner of Beaches, a restaurant and lounge on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. “Usually the holidays are a nice little bump for us, but it looks like that’s not going to happen this year.”

Shaw said he fears the ban on outdoor dining would extend beyond three weeks — and that Beaches is going to be hit hard without the federal relief that was available in the spring and summer.

“Last time we shut down, we had some federal packages at least pending. This time, we don’t know what will happen,” Shaw said. “It’s a little bit scarier.”

Several restaurants planned to cut back employees’ hours, lay off staffers or simply close. Many restaurants made major investments in outdoor dining facilities. Some don’t know much much longer they can survive.

Here are some voices from restaurants:

‘It’s devastating’

Casa Vega owner Christy Vega Fowler says she spent $30,000 setting up two outdoor dining tents behind her family’s Sherman Oaks Mexican restaurant. Vega Fowler said it costs an additional $10,000 a month to rent the tents. She’s also paying her regular rent.

“It’s an impossible game that doesn’t make any sense, and it seems like nobody cares about us,” she said. Vega Fowler said she planned on running all her numbers Monday and drastically reducing the hours of many of her employees.

“They told us we could operate with outdoor dining, we did it safely, we made the investment, and then they take it away from us,” she said. “It’s devastating.”

‘It feels like March all over again’

“We’ve been operating for many weeks while the number of cases were in decline. Outdoor dining is not the reason the caseloads are going up,” asserted Caroline Styne, a restaurateur, sommelier and co-owner of AOC, Tavern and the Larder. “What people are doing at home is the problem. “

Styne said that her restaurants are unable to survive on takeout and that she has been forced to lay off the majority of her staff for the second time this year.

“I feel so responsible for everyone,” she said. “It’s devastating and heartbreaking. I don’t know how many places can survive in the long run.”

Styne said that the owners of AOC had already spent over $20,000 building out the restaurant’s patio, which seats up to 90, and had recently put a deposit down on an upgraded outdoor tent rated for winter weather.

“We’re still on the hook for that,” she said.

“It feels like March all over again,” she added. “We’ve spent so much money treading water this whole time and we have nothing to show for it. There’s no savior on the horizon.

“The fact that there is a restaurant aid bill sitting in Congress right now and it hasn’t been passed, it’s a complete train wreck,” she said. “They’re letting independent restaurants die.”

‘What we are going to do?’

“What do I think of it? It’s horrible. It’s another punch,” Michael Simhai, the owner of Italian restaurant Della Terra in the Fairfax district, said in a brief telephone interview about 10 minutes after learning of the moratorium on outdoor dining.

“It will be horrible for my staff,” said Simhai, noting that his takeout business would not offset the loss from patrons dining at his restaurant’s patios. “All the busboys, food runners, servers — they are not needed…. They work paycheck to paycheck. What are we going to do?”

Simhai echoed frustrations that he had spent so much money on preparations for outdoor dining, only to have his restaurant sit idle.

“We opened a back patio. We spent money reinforcing it, putting heaters in, thinking that in the holiday season, we’d make money,” said Simhai, who opened his restaurant in 2009. “All that money I spent, I can’t recover it.

“I’m more worried about my staff. That’s who I worry about. After three weeks, who knows? How much more after that? How are they going to pay rent?” Simhai said.

He couldn’t help but feel the restaurant industry was being targeted unfairly, without any aid to compensate for owners’ losses.

“I guarantee the people making these decisions make the same salary regardless of whether there is a shutdown or not,” he said.

‘I am terrified’

Doug Rankin, chef at Bar Restaurant in Silver Lake, said that outdoor dining had helped his restaurant break even over the last few months, generating enough to carry it through the year and ensure that staffers kept their jobs.

The restaurant will now pivot entirely to takeout. Rankin said that the entire service staff had already been laid off and that kitchen staff would be scaled down immediately.

“We’re holding on for dear life,” he said. “It’s incredibly devastating.”

Rankin also expressed frustration that there was no aid on the horizon.

“There’s no aid in sight, nothing at all,” he said. “If you’re going to keep throwing these restrictions at us, you need to provide some kind of support. I had very little faith in the government at this point.

“We spent thousands of dollars on outdoor seating and now we can’t use it. They’ve told us three weeks, but I’m honestly expecting it [to be] longer,” he said.

“We’re considering taking a pause until the end of the year, just shutting down the restaurant completely,” he added. “It’s a completely different landscape than in March, and takeout isn’t going to cut it if we’re going to survive.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve done everything that has been asked of us, healthwise. We’ve been on top of it. And now they want to point the finger at restaurants. Where is the data?” he said.

“So many people are losing their jobs right before the holidays,” he said. “I have two kids at home and I’m trying to support my family. I’m terrified.”

Expecting the worst

Shirley Chung, chef-owner of Ms Chi restaurant in Culver City, said she had been texting with local chefs last week, speculating when another shutdown might happen.

“We’ve been expecting it for the last few weeks and now the shoe finally dropped,” Chung said.

To supplement her income, the chef has started multiple concepts out of her single restaurant kitchen. She now sells her mochi doughnuts under the name Mo-Chi Donuts on Grubhub, and with this latest shutdown, she’s thinking about starting another one called Lu Rou Fantastic, focusing on the braised pork belly dish.

“All I can think of is how can I increase my revenue based on one location,” she said. “If this stay-at-home order continues, I might do a burger concept or fried food — something easy that I can turn out with quality from the Ms Chi kitchen.”

‘Make sure we’re doing our part’

Frances Cannon, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild — a nonprofit with nearly 100 brewery members — said the latest order to close outdoor dining and tasting rooms comes as its members are “all scrambling to earn enough to keep the lights on.”

“Having only reopened in early October after nearly 100 days closed for outdoor dining, our breweries were hoping to try and make ends meet while the winter weather was still reasonable,” Cannon said in an email.

“Our industry isn’t thrilled about being reduced back to to-go sales, but we also want to make sure we’re doing our part — and doing so together,” she said.

“The silver lining here is that our industry wasn’t singled out this time around. This will definitely have an incredibly dire impact on dining and hospitality as a whole, but if we were arbitrarily chosen to close while other businesses with like behaviors were not, then that would have left a bitter taste in our mouths,” Cannon said.

Cannon asked patrons of L.A. County breweries to “make the effort” to pick up beers to-go or order bottles to be delivered.


Rent is falling in L.A. Head east, you’ll find the opposite.

In Los Angeles, apartment rent is on the decline amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Estimated rent for a vacant apartment has fallen 5.3% since the beginning of the year in Los Angeles County, according to one measure, as landlords try to fill vacant units in a down economy.

In the Inland Empire, apartment hunters are encountering a stark difference.

“It’s day and night,” said Rafael De Anda, a CoStar Group Inc. analyst who specializes in the Inland Empire.

In Riverside County, rent for vacant units jumped 6.9% between January and October, according to rental website and data provider Apartment List, which produces a monthly rent index based on listings on its website. In San Bernardino County, rent soared 9.1%.

Apartment List, which supplied the Los Angeles data, said the pattern between urban and suburban areas is repeating in many places across the country.

The stark divergence reflects how people are responding to the pandemic, experts said.

Although solid data on recent migration patterns isn’t yet available, anecdotal evidence points to some people leaving big city apartments for more space while they work from home.

Real estate agents say those who can afford it are buying houses in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, driving up home prices. But others are moving from the coast to roomier Inland Empire rentals to handle their Zoom calls, De Anda said, citing conversations with property managers.

Lewis Management Corp. is one of the largest landlords in the Inland Empire, with more than 6,000 units in total. Randall Lewis, executive vice president, said a growing share of the company’s new tenants are coming from more expensive Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“It was really when people recognized ‘I may be working from home for more than a month or two,’” he said.

Rob Warnock, a research associate with Apartment List, said that for some movers the decision is probably more about money than space: as they’ve taken a hit financially in the downturn, they’ve ventured east for cheaper housing.

But he said he believes the key reason for the diverging rent trends is that fewer renters are relocating to big cities rather than that people are leaving those cities for surrounding areas.

Not only have companies cut jobs, but when they do hire, it’s increasingly likely employers don’t mandate workers come into the office.

Universities are also holding online classes to stop the spread.

“Places like L.A., really any big city that has a lot of economic drive, every summer we get people who move into these cities for college or people changing careers,” Warnock said. “It’s not so much that people are moving from L.A. to Rancho Cucamonga, but rather the people who were planning to move to L.A. are thinking, ‘Do I really need to move to L.A.,’” or can they move to the suburbs?

Warnock said their ultimate destination might now be the Inland Empire or even more suburban L.A. County cities.

For example, a recent Apartment List analysis found the urban-suburban divide is evident not just in places such as the Inland Empire that have long served as an affordable escape for coastal residents, but in individual metros as well, including the large metro of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

In the city of Los Angeles, rent fell 6% between January and September, but only 1% across other cities in L.A. and Orange counties, according to a recent analysis from Apartment List that used the most recent data available at the time.

In the city of Riverside, meanwhile, rent rose 2% between January and September, but across other Inland Empire cities was up 7%.

In 27 out of 30 large U.S. metro areas, the main city in the region saw larger rent declines or less rent growth during the pandemic than its suburbs, Apartment List found. In 11 of the metros, the company said rent is falling in the main city while climbing in the suburbs.

In the Inland Empire, rent is also rising faster than it was last year.

Helping drive the current increases is falling vacancy that gives landlords “the power to raise rents,” De Anda said.

In Los Angeles County, the percentage of vacant apartments rose from 4.79% in the fourth quarter to 6.14% last week, CoStar data show. But in the Inland Empire, vacancy has dropped from 5.3% to 3.8%.

“In apartment communities that have one or two units available, they are going to mark it up and see if anybody is willing to pay that price,” De Anda said.

That power extends to renewals as well. In September, data from another real estate firm, RealPage, show tenants renewing their leases saw an average increase of 2.7% in the Inland Empire, compared to essentially no change in L.A. and Orange counties.

Lewis said his company has been able to increase rent about 3% to 4% for renewals and vacant units as vacancies have declined at its middle and upper-middle class communities. He cited the increased demand from the coast, but also the local economy.

Although the inland region has shed jobs recently, it’s fared better than some places. That’s in part because Riverside and San Bernardino counties are hubs for the logistics, or goods movement, industry. Thanks to an increased desire to shop online, that sector has done better than marquee Los Angeles industries such as entertainment and tourism.

The unemployment rate is 12.1% in L.A. County, but 9% in the Inland Empire.

Rising rents stand to make housing even less affordable for many households.

In 2019, a time when the economy was far more robust, nearly 30% of Inland Empire renters spent more than half their gross income on housing, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Nathan Cieszynski, program manager with the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, said he’s increasingly fielding calls from panicked tenants facing rent increases. In some cases, he said the landlord is trying to raise rent beyond the legal limit imposed by the state’s rent cap law, which limits annual rent increases in buildings more than 15 years old to 5% plus inflation.

“We deal with the low- to moderate-income population — any rent increase is a big deal,” Cieszynski said. “They don’t know where else they can go.”

Overall, CoStar data show the largest rent increases have come in higher-end properties, where average rent for a vacant unit in the Inland Empire has grown 9.3% over the last year, compared with the previous four-year average of 3.8%.

In older, more rundown properties where lower-income households are likely to live, rent is up 3.4%, compared with the previous four-year average of 4.9%.

De Anda said the higher rent grown in newer, more luxurious buildings indicate most of the additional demand in the Inland Empire has come from people with decent jobs seeking more space for less money rather than those in financial distress looking for the lowest price possible.

How long the suburban-urban rental divide continues will probably depend on how long the desire for suburban living continues, Warnock said.

In recent earnings calls, some publicly traded apartment companies that own tens of thousands of units nationwide said they aren’t bracing for a quick reversal.

“We haven’t seen anything that leads us to believe that the trends … are likely to change meaningfully in the near term,” Michael Manelis, chief operating officer of Chicago-based Equity Residential, told analysts last month. “The suburban portfolio should continue to outperform.”


What’s replacing Ports O Call Village in San Pedro? So much

On the main channel of Los Angeles Harbor where the city’s shipping industry was born more than a century ago, a kitschy imitation of a New England fishing village called Ports O’ Call opened in 1962.

It was a major regional attraction where thousands came every year to stroll among quaint shops, take boat rides and dine by the water. For a period in the 1970s, the mast-like Skytower lifted visitors 30 stories high to show them giant tankers, cruise ships and fishing trawlers navigating the port.

The ship “Regina Maris” at Ports O’ Call in San Pedro in the 1970s.

(Albert Moote / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

But in the late 1980s, Ports O’ Call Village faded and grew shabby, a victim of changing tastes in entertainment and dwindling investment in its upkeep and improvement. Despite a last-minute, nostalgia-fueled community outcry and lawsuits from merchants and restaurants, all but the San Pedro Fish Market was demolished in 2018 to make way for dramatic redevelopment, first proposed by the Harbor Commission five years before.

Now the waterfront’s long-awaited makeover is finally taking shape.

One project will transform the former tourist magnet into a new seaside attraction with shops, restaurants and bars in shipping containers. In another, the city’s nearby original pier dating to the early 1900s is being converted to a sprawling center for new eco-friendly businesses building the ocean’s “blue economy.”

Among the new developments coming to the port is an amphitheater the size of L.A.’s Greek Theatre, where concerts will be heard a stone’s throw from a World War II-era battleship. Visitors will stroll a waterfront promenade designed by the architects of the High Line, Manhattan’s instant landmark park made out of a former elevated rail spur.

An artist’s rendering of West Harbor, an entertainment and shopping complex. A 2020 groundbreaking was delayed by the pandemic, but next year construction is set to begin on the $150-million first phase.

(James Corner Field Operations)

The multiple projects are part of a two-decade process to clean up the air and water at the port and turn unused docks, wharves and warehouses into a place where more people will want to work or visit for fun, port officials said.

“Bringing people to our waterfront has been a hallmark of the Port of Los Angeles for decades,” Executive Director Gene Seroka said, “and we believe that the investment in this particular project will really bring us to the next level.”

To smooth the path of new development catering to visitors, the Port of Los Angeles is investing about $1 billion in infrastructure improvements over 10 years, he said. Private developers building West Harbor, AltaSea and other projects will invest an estimated $500 million, said Michael Galvin, director of the port’s real estate operations.

Eric Lopez, 21, middle, of Compton works on the West Harbor development in San Pedro, located where the former Ports O’ Call used to be.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Galvin said, “to really change these communities.”

At the Ports O’ Call site, expect to find a seaside brewery and beer garden among the spread of stores and restaurants in a 42-acre retail center called West Harbor that will have five times as much outdoor space as the Grove mall in Los Angeles.

Rising nearby will be a solar-powered “lighthouse” as tall as the Statue of Liberty, towering over a cluster of century-old warehouses containing new-economy businesses such as the headquarters of undersea explorer Robert Ballard, who located the wreck of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck. His research vessel the Nautilus docks there, as does Boeing’s prototype unmanned research submarine Echo Voyager.

Before the pandemic, about 3 million people came to the waterfront each year for recreation, a tally port leaders hope to double after people begin to venture out again.

West Harbor

A 2020 groundbreaking was delayed by the pandemic, but next year construction is set to begin on the $150-million first phase of West Harbor, the dining, shopping and entertainment complex that will replace Ports O’ Call. The project recently got a name change, from San Pedro Public Market, as it previously was known.

An artist’s rendering of West Harbor, an entertainment and shopping complex at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. It will evoke the industrial nature of the port with warehouse-style buildings filled with restaurants, bars and shops.

(James Corner Field Operations / Studio One Eleven)

Dispensing with the old center’s improbable mix of New England, Spanish Colonial and Asian themes, West Harbor will evoke the industrial nature of the port with warehouse-style buildings filled with restaurants, bars and shops.

The layout was conceived by James Corner Field Operations, the architects and urban designers behind the High Line and Tongva Park in Santa Monica. The central courtyard will be flanked by repurposed shipping containers turned into small restaurant kitchens, seating, fire pits and a stage for live music and dancing.

There will be native plant gardens and family activities such as children’s playgrounds and bocce ball courts. For people arriving by water, there will be courtesy slips for private boats and water taxis.

An artist’s rendering of West Harbor, which will have native plant gardens and family activities such as children’s playgrounds and bocce ball courts. For people arriving by water, there will be courtesy slips for private boats and water taxis.

(James Corner Field Operations)

One of the first restaurateurs to sign a lease was John Sangmeister, owner of Gladstone’s seafood restaurant in Long Beach, a competitive sailor who is also known for arranging public parties and stunts including a 2010 contest in which entrants made human-powered flying machines and piloted them off a 30-foot-high deck into the local harbor.

Sangmeister broke three ribs attempting to fly his own entry, but said he is game for more antics in San Pedro, where he plans another Gladstone’s. “We think this project lends itself to bigger, funner events and we’re excited to be a part of that.”

West Harbor is projected to open in 2022 but will continue to be developed in the years to follow and is intended to include a hotel after the travel business recovers from the pandemic. One of the recreational proposals being considered would bring a skate park, a wave machine for surfing and an artificial ski slope.

One proposed attraction that would combine alcohol with a sense of danger is what developer Eric Johnson calls an “aerobar.” It would be a tall open cylinder, reminiscent of the Skytower, where riders would sit in a circle with their feet dangling and be hoisted high enough to see to Catalina Island while being served cocktails by a bartender perched in the middle.

Johnson, whose San Pedro company Jerico Development is building West Harbor with Los Angeles developer Ratkovich Co., rode his bicycle to Ports O’ Call as a boy and hopes to recapture the enthusiasm the attraction generated in its heyday, when crowds were constant.

“It was locals on weekdays and locals and tourists on the weekends,” said Johnson, who was partial to the joke shop, glassblower and game arcade.

One of the key attractions for more modern tastes will be the amphitheater, a 6,200-seat venue operated by Los Angeles music promoter Nederlander Concerts.

The region has several concert halls, but there is room for another, Chief Executive Alex Hodges said, at least in that unusual location for live shows.

“We love the idea of being at the waterfront,” he said. “It’s just a thrill — the bridges are landmarks. They speak to a big, exciting, mysterious world” of international commerce.

Jake Bonney, 23, sweeps between the Nautilus, a research vessel, and an early 20th century warehouse at the AltaSea site, which is still in its early stages.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Hodges envisions people looking down on shows from the deck of the USS Iowa, a retired battleship launched in 1942 that is berthed a mile up the Main Channel where it serves as a naval museum. Plans call for moving the Iowa to a slip next to West Harbor, no small feat considering it is a 45,000-ton vessel once known as the “Big Stick.”

“It’s going to be a challenge” to transport, Seroka said, a costly task requiring extensive engineering work and dredging of the channel. “But believe me, this community can do it.”

After a competition among developers, port leaders selected Jerico Development and Ratkovich Co. to build the replacement to Ports O’ Call and signed them to a 66-year lease on the property.

Ratkovich Co. President Wayne Ratkovich said he hopes West Harbor will be a boon for San Pedro, “a city within a city that has often been overlooked” as a neighborhood of Los Angeles. “We saw an opportunity to re-energize a unique downtown.”


In the early 20th century, Los Angeles merchants and city leaders set out to capture a share of the increased global shipping trade expected to pass through the Panama Canal, a link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that opened in 1914. They created a municipal wharf with a long stretch of warehouses where ships were loaded and unloaded into trains, carts and trucks by burly longshoremen.

The growth of containerized shipping after World War II gradually rendered City Dock No. 1 obsolete for moving goods but left behind a choice 35-acre site for a complex of pioneering tech companies focused on sustainable uses of the world’s oceans.

Tim McOsker, AltaSea chief executive officer, stands between the Nautilus, a research vessel, and an early 20th century warehouse. Part of AltaSea’s mission is to create jobs that didn’t previously exist, said McOsker, who grew up in San Pedro.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

AltaSea is in its early stages but so far rents space to eco-friendly start-ups, including one that raises edible mussels far out at sea, creating a sustainable food source. A company spun off from Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge can locate objects deep underwater such as lost vessels, and map the depths of the ocean. Another fledgling business creates high-tech coral farms and uses remotely operated submarines to distribute baby corals onto threatened reefs.

Part of AltaSea’s mission is to create jobs that didn’t previously exist, said Chief Executive Tim McOsker, who grew up in San Pedro when work was plentiful on the docks or for the fleet of fishermen based there.

An artist’s rendering of AltaSea, a marine science and business innovation campus being built on City Dock No. 1 at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.


“We are looking at a future where, without some intervention, it may not be possible to sustain the kind of middle-class incomes that families had growing up here” for generations, he said. “We have the opportunity to expand the blue economy here in the harbor area and create a future for our kids.”

The figurative whale for AltaSea so far is Ballard, who has captured public interest as a deep-sea explorer and scientific researcher. His 211-foot research vessel is based there and he plans to build an educational visitors’ center called the Bob Ballard Experience inside a 1920s industrial building that is also his headquarters and home to his research and development.

“Bob Ballard is somebody who attracts other businesses,” McOsker said. “We all want to be close to Bob because of his credibility.”

That includes leaders of 23 institutions and universities, including USC and UCLA, that are part of the Southern California Marine Institute, which trains students in ocean studies and entrepreneurship in the emerging blue economy. The institute plans to move in 2023 from a small facility on Terminal Island to larger quarters in the same former warehouse Ballard occupies.

An artist’s rendering of AltaSea, a marine science and business innovation campus being built on City Dock No. 1 at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. It is planning a 180,000-square-foot array of solar panels on the roof of one warehouse to provide power to the businesses inside.


AltaSea is planning a 180,000-square-foot array of solar panels on the roof of one warehouse to provide power to the businesses inside. A more symbolic solar-powered “lighthouse” will be built as part of a new engagement center for visitors at the north edge of the water.

“We wanted to create a beacon for the port so that everyone could recognize where AltaSea is from a long distance away, ” said Andy Cohen, co-chief executive of Gensler, the architecture firm overseeing the design of the 35-acre campus.

The exterior of the 14-story tower will light up with energy drawn from the sun, and visitors who climb stairs to the top can take in the industrial theater of the modern port and the renovated historical City Dock No. 1.

An artist’s rendering of AltaSea, a marine science and business innovation campus being built on City Dock No. 1 at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.


“We are going to mesh old industrial buildings, where horses and buggies picked up arrivals, with a modern science campus,” Cohen said. “This is about the future of the planet, and for generations to come.”

More key projects

West Harbor and AltaSea aren’t the only recreational improvements coming to the port.

Port officials broke ground in October on the $71-million Wilmington Waterfront Promenade. The nine-acre development will provide more direct public access to Wilmington’s historic waterfront and create more open spaces and recreational areas for the harbor community’s residents. The project will include a park and a public pier and dock.

Work is also underway on the $33-million Town Square and waterfront promenade project that will connect West Harbor with a historic seaside landmark: the Streamline Moderne-style San Pedro Municipal Ferry Building.

Built in 1941, it was the terminal for ferries that connected the mainland with Terminal Island before the Vincent Thomas Bridge was completed in 1963.

Now housing the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, the square will serve as the pedestrian connecting point between downtown San Pedro and West Harbor.


Column: Going viral saved Burritos La Palma from the ravages of COVID-19

In early June, Albert Bañuelos took stock of his finances and came to the same conclusion that too many restaurateurs have had to make in this coronavirus year:

Maybe it was time to close for good.

His Burritos La Palma, a small chain with spots in Santa Ana, El Monte, and Boyle Heights, had done better than he ever imagined. Its tiny, tasty namesake has been a perennial in best-of lists ever since Bañuelos opened in 2012. He planned for 2020 to be his company’s biggest year yet.

More locations were in the works, along with a full-fledged tortillería. The Coachella music festival had asked La Palma to be a vendor; SoFi Stadium had rewarded him a commissary contract.

“You’re working hard,” said Bañuelos, 54, from a cramped office at his Santa Ana location, “and you’re ready for the next step. You’re going in the right direction. And then, it’s all gone.”

Workers at Burritos La Palma in Santa Ana make burritos.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The pandemic froze all his new locations and SoFi contract. The Coachella gig disappeared, along with all catering jobs, which represent 30% of La Palma’s revenue. Bañuelos closed a location at Banc of California Stadium, and canceled contracts with food-delivery apps, not trusting a third party with his food.

He applied for and received a $38,000 PPP loan, and modified all the La Palmas to be coronavirus safe. But sales still dropped dramatically.

“If it was a matter of dollars and cents, I would’ve closed early on,” Bañuelos said. “Pero soy bien ranchero.”

But I’m really country, he proclaimed.

“That mentality doesn’t allow you to cut your losses,” Bañuelos continued. “For you and the team that always believed in you, you can’t let them down.”

And he knew something only a few trusted friends did at the time: Burritos La Palma would appear on the second season of “The Taco Chronicles,” a wildly popular Netflix series. He decided to wait until its debut, and hoped for a miracle.

On Sept. 16 — Mexico’s Independence Day — the new “The Taco Chronicles” dropped at midnight. Burritos La Palma was the star of the burritos episode (I make a cameo to describe burritos as a “cylindrical god.” It’s true, you know).

By 9 a.m. that day, people were calling all La Palmas to place orders. By 10 a.m., a line had already formed outside the Santa Ana storefront though they wouldn’t open for another hour.

A customer pays for his food at Burritos La Palma in Santa Ana.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Irony of ironies: what saved Burritos La Palma during a pandemic was going viral.

The two months since have been “nonstop,” said Bañuelos, a tall, burly native of the Mexican state of Zacatecas whose stature masks his easygoing persona. Wait times at his Santa Ana location got to as long as an hour and half. His team became so overworked that La Palma is now closed on Wednesdays to let everyone breathe.

Business remained busier than the pre-coronavirus days when I visited in the wake of California’s latest coronavirus regulations. “Red, Red Wine” by UB40 blared. The phone rang constantly. Kitchen workers seamlessly waltzed from the counter to the stovetop to the dishwasher. Customers picked up to-go orders.

“I’m glad they’re still doing well,” said 42-year-old Ron De Angelis of Irvine, a regular who works down the street. “They deserve it.”

John Li was on vacation from Denver and visited La Palma for the first time after his wife mentioned its Netflix appearance.

“I’m excited to try them,” said the 40-year-old financier as he lugged two boxes of goodies. “Mom and pop places are really suffering, so it’s cool to see that they got some love.”

David Hastie waited for a quesadilla and two burritos. While happy for La Palma’s recent media bumps, the longtime restaurant manager warned “they’re short-lived. Even more so now with so much content. It’s a bigger boost than before, but the drop is also steeper.”

Bañuelos laughed when I shared this with him. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for Netflix,” he said before opening the door for an eater. “I’m happy. But I’m also scared like crazy.”


I’ve covered restaurants in Orange County and beyond for 20 years, so I can say with confidence that no industry is more ruthlessly capitalistic than restaurants.

I’ve seen well-financed millionaires open fancy establishments that close within a year and leave them mired in lawsuits. And I’ve seen success stories like Bañuelos, who started his small empire by selling flour tortillas at the farmer’s market in his hometown of Lake Forest, graduated to a taco truck, and hustled his way to what he has today.

The coronavirus has emerged to become an even more unforgiving leveler of restaurants than the free market.

Restaurants can’t bank on deus ex machina moves like a top-rated TV show to survive. But if they do come, like it did with Burritos La Palma, restaurants should also be equipped with what Bañuelos has but which is lacking in this industry, and much of society right now: heart balanced by reason.

All of his restaurants are simple takeout spots, with a design scheme that looks unfinished because it is. Despite investors courting him with dreams of bigger and flashier places, he’s declined them all, because “you should never overextend yourself.”

Most of his employees have been with Bañuelos for years, allowing La Palma to foster a workplace culture that shines in downturns like this. During a time where just one case of the coronavirus could close La Palma and fatally harm them, no one has contracted it.

“We know that if someone was careless, we’d all pay,” Bañuelos said. “That’s the culture we had before COVID, and that’s the culture we’ll have after.”

“He understands people need to work, but that people need to feel safe and valued,” said 27-year-old Lilyana Garcia of Irvine. She has worked for La Palma for five years and helped to open the Santa Ana location. Early on, Bañuelos had workers wear masks and trained everyone in COVID-19 safety protocol.

“Most bosses aren’t going to be like that,” she continued, while looking up an order. “But more should.”

More crucially, Bañuelos isn’t letting his newfound Netflix fame influence future business plans. He plans to move forward, but only until he feels financially comfortable — and he doesn’t expect that for a while.

“Do I wish I could be enjoying this?” Bañuelos said. “Sure. But the first quarter next year is going to be vicious.”

The lunch rush ended. La Palma was now quiet, save for the “More, more more!” taunts of Billy Idol on “Rebel Yell.”

“Businesses will have to audit themselves, and see where they’re really at,” Bañuelos continued. “It’s going to hit the fan.”

Except he didn’t say “it’s.”


Hot Property: Dodgers’ Mookie Betts buys an Encino mansion

Fresh off a World Series victory, Dodgers star Mookie Betts is treating himself to a new house. The four-time All-Star recently dropped $7.6 million on an Encino mansion owned by UCLA football coach Chip Kelly, according to a person not authorized to discuss the sale.

It’s a nice profit for Kelly, who paid $7 million for the home two years ago, records show.

Betts will have a bit of a commute to work, as the property is about 20 miles from Dodger Stadium. Earlier this year, the outfielder inked a massive 12-year extension with the team worth $365 million — the largest contract in Dodgers history, and one that’ll keep him in Los Angeles until 2032.

The house spans about 9,300 square feet on a long, thin lot, with nine bedrooms and 10 bathrooms across two stories. A motor court with two garages approaches the crisp black-and-white exterior.

A two-story foyer with herringbone floors and a sweeping staircase sets a dramatic tone, while living spaces display a modern farmhouse style. Highlights include a chandelier-topped dining room, marble kitchen, indoor-outdoor living room, movie theater and walk-in wine closet with a candy machine outside.

Upstairs, a striking black fireplace runs floor-to-ceiling in the owner’s suite, and an office extends to a balcony overlooking the grounds.

Out back, a cabana with a TV adjoins a custom swimming pool with a spa and a nearby conversation pit. A guesthouse and sports court complete the property.

The listing was held by Craig Knizek, Matt Klein and Maya Librush of the Agency, according to the person not authorized to comment. Carl Gambino of Compass represented Betts, that person said. The agents on both sides declined to comment.

Betts, 28, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2011 and spent six seasons with the team, including a historic 2018 campaign in which he became the first MLB player in history to win MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, the batting title and a World Series championship in the same season. He was dealt to the Dodgers in 2020 and helped the team win its first World Series title in 32 years, defeating the Rays in six games.

Ellen sells yet another estate

Two of Southern California’s most prolific house flippers are also two of the most famous: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. A year after paying $27 million for a Montecito compound, the power couple have sold it for $33.3 million.

They listed the scenic spread for $39.9 million in October and found a buyer a few weeks later, records show.

The Bali-inspired estate sprawls across nine acres with a backdrop of mountains and the ocean below. Combining three parcels, it has a stylish low-slung home, a spacious guesthouse, security office, cabana, gym, pond, pickleball court and an infinity pool overlooking the Pacific.

During their stay, DeGeneres and De Rossi renovated the home, which is approached by a courtyard entry lined with koi ponds. Inside, voluminous spaces offer an eye-catching design palette of warm wood, marble, tile and glass.

Four bedrooms and 10 bathrooms are spread across 10,674 square feet, as well as a library, chef’s kitchen and dramatic great room. Walls of glass open to covered lounges and dining patios along the back side of the home. Beyond that, rolling lawns, exotic gardens and sculptures dot the grounds.

DeGeneres, 62, has won multiple Emmys for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which premiered in 2003. She has also hosted the Grammys, the Academy Awards and the NBC game show “Ellen’s Game of Games,” which is currently airing its fourth season.

De Rossi, 47, has appeared on such television shows as the legal drama “Ally McBeal” and the sitcoms “Arrested Development” and “Better Off Ted.” More recently, she played Chairwoman Elizabeth North on the ABC show “Scandal.”

Riskin Partners Group, a division of Village Properties, handled both ends of the deal.

Reality star flips in Hidden Hills

Scott Disick has wrapped up a sale in Hidden Hills, the guard-gated community that many of his “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” castmates call home. Records show the TV personality sold his remodeled farmhouse in the neighborhood for $5.6 million.

That’s $1.29 million less than he was originally asking, but still about $2.7 million more than he paid for it two years ago. The sale is more or less a house flip for Disick, who transformed the home from a traditional-style space into a modern farmhouse during his short stay.

Hidden Hills is known for its large lots, and this one comes in at 1.33 acres. White panels and rustic wood cover the exterior, and a 10-foot glass pivoting door opens to the 5,663-square-foot floor plan.

Inside, a vast open floor plan lined with hardwood combines a marble kitchen, indoor-outdoor dining area, living room with a fireplace and wine closet. There are primary suites on both levels; the lower-level one opens directly to the backyard, and the upper-level one boasts a sitting room and spa bathroom with a steam shower.

A reclaimed-wood pavilion connects the house to the private backyard, where grassy lawns surround a zero-edge pool, spa and gas fire pit.

Kozet Luciano and Andre Manoukian of the Agency held the listing. Steven Moritz of Sotheby’s International Realty and Margie Markus of Coldwell Banker Realty represented the buyer.

Disick is best known for his former relationship with Kourtney Kardashian and his appearances on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” He previously appeared in his own series called “Lord Disick: Lifestyles of a Lord,” as well as the real estate show “Flip It Like Disick.”

Film producer’s compound closes

In Bel-Air, a French-inspired estate once owned by Hal Gaba — the late producer behind Concord Records and Village Roadshow Pictures — sold for $18 million.

Gaba, who died in 2009, also founded media company Act III Communications and enjoyed a longtime partnership with sitcom creator Norman Lear. The property has been waffling on and off the market in the decade since, most recently listing at $26.5 million, records show.

The pedigreed property spans five acres above Stone Canyon Reservoir. Combining two parcels, it includes a mansion and two guesthouses that total 15,360 square feet, as well as a tennis court, swimming pool and cabana surrounded by manicured lawns, gardens and pathways.

Approached by a dramatic courtyard with hedges, the main residence is designed for entertaining. Grand public spaces include an elegant living room, formal dining room, wood-paneled library, movie theater and rotunda with chandelier.

Five bedrooms and six bathrooms complete the floor plan. A loggia lines the back side of the home, descending to the pool and spa. Throughout the property, secluded nooks unfold to views of the sweeping landscape below.

Susan Perryman of Hilton & Hyland held the listing with Branden and Rayni Williams of Beverly Hills Estates. Mia Trudeau, also with Hilton & Hyland, represented the buyer.

Gaba served as president and chief executive of Act III Communications and was also co-chairman of Village Roadshow Pictures, the film production company responsible for hits such as “The Matrix,” “Ocean’s 11,” “The Lego Movie” and “The Joker.”

Leafy retreat lands a buyer

After nearly a half-century in Hollywood Hills, writer-producer David Giler just sold his English country-style retreat for $2 million.

Giler, who’s best known for producing the “Alien” franchise, has owned the home since the early 1970s, records show. He listed it for $2.195 million in August.

The house has its charms, boasting lattice windows and a design palette of wood, brick and tile across a single story. But the real highlight is out back, where there’s a giant landscaped patio made for entertaining.

Every single common room extends to the outdoor space. There’s a kidney-shaped saltwater swimming pool, spa, dining pergola lined with ivy and bohemian-style lanai with room for 15 people.

Beamed ceilings top a living room, and other spaces include a country kitchen with blue tile and a billiards room with a wet bar and bay window. Three bedrooms and two bathrooms complete the 2,500-square-foot floor plan; the primary suite features a sauna, and the guest bedrooms open to a courtyard with a fountain.

Juliette Hohnen and Annie Stewart of Douglas Elliman hold the listing. Kennon Earl of Compass represented the buyer.

In addition to the “Alien” films, Giler wrote the comedies “The Black Bird” and “Fun With Dick and Jane” and produced the 2012 Ridley Scott sci-fi horror flick “Prometheus.”


Home of the Week: Beverly Hills penthouse covered in greenery

Found toward the top of a Beverly Hills complex that blends nature with architecture, this chic “Sky Villa” looks as good on the outside as it does on the inside. The building, dubbed Gardenhouse, was designed by MAD Architects, the same firm handling the futuristic Lucas Museum of Narrative Art coming to Exposition Park. Greenery covers the outside, and museum-like living spaces fill the inside with gallery white walls and a massive sculptural staircase.

The details

Location: 8600 Wilshire Blvd. #17, Beverly Hills, 90211

Asking price: $5.888 million

Year built: 2020

Living area: 2,916 square feet, three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms

Features: Subterranean parking garage; direct elevator access; private foyer; floor-to-ceiling walls of glass; two-story living room; angular windows; marble kitchen; lofted primary suite; free-standing tub; private terrace; city and mountain views; architectural facade of aluminum composite panels.

About the area: In the 90211 ZIP Code, based on two sales, the median price for condos in September was $1.303 million, down 3.5% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Agents: Donald Heller, Compass, (310) 466-7809

To submit a candidate for Home of the Week, send high-resolution color photos via, permission from the photographer to publish the images and a description of the house to


Home of the Week: Beverly Hills penthouse covered in greenery

Found toward the top of a Beverly Hills complex that blends nature with architecture, this chic “Sky Villa” looks as good on the outside as it does on the inside. The building, dubbed Gardenhouse, was designed by MAD Architects, the same firm handling the futuristic Lucas Museum of Narrative Art coming to Exposition Park. Greenery covers the outside, and museum-like living spaces fill the inside with gallery white walls and a massive sculptural staircase.

The details

Location: 8600 Wilshire Blvd. #17, Beverly Hills, 90211

Asking price: $5.888 million

Year built: 2020

Living area: 2,916 square feet, three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms

Features: Subterranean parking garage; direct elevator access; private foyer; floor-to-ceiling walls of glass; two-story living room; angular windows; marble kitchen; lofted primary suite; free-standing tub; private terrace; city and mountain views; architectural facade of aluminum composite panels.

About the area: In the 90211 ZIP Code, based on two sales, the median price for condos in September was $1.303 million, down 3.5% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Agents: Donald Heller, Compass, (310) 466-7809

To submit a candidate for Home of the Week, send high-resolution color photos via, permission from the photographer to publish the images and a description of the house to


Toilet paper is selling out again, but the supply chain is OK

Hard times have returned to the nation’s toilet paper aisles.

With coronavirus cases and lockdowns once again on the rise, shoppers are reverting to the panic-buying patterns of the early days of the pandemic. In response, grocery companies such as Target, Ralphs parent Kroger and Vons parent Albertsons Cos. have reinstated purchase limits on toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies.

But this time, the grocery companies say, they’re putting limits in place specifically to avoid the empty shelves many consumers faced in the spring — and industry experts say the grocers and suppliers are prepared for the winter wave.

“We put the limits on out of caution,” said Kevin Curry, president of Albertsons’ Southern California division, who noted that the current uptick in demand is nowhere near what he saw in March and April. “The supply chain’s in a better position to handle this rush.”

Over the summer, the industry put a number of measures in place to adjust to a new normal of high-volume grocery shopping and waves of lockdown-related shopping sprees.

Among them, stores and suppliers have started keeping more inventory on hand, when possible, to prepare for unpredictable spikes in demand.

The industry has “gone from a just-in-time mentality to a just-in-case mentality,” said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies manufacturing supply chains. Companies have spent the last few decades trying to reduce inventory, in pursuit of a world in which raw materials arrive at factories in the morning, leave as finished goods at night and are sold out on store shelves the next day, with no surplus lying around at the end of the process.

The just-in-time model relies on using past data to forecast demand and flexible logistics networks to adapt to predicted shifts. It falls apart, however, when the unpredictable strikes on a global scale.

Nick Green, chief executive of Thrive Market, which sells mostly organic food and health products, said he has laid in extra supplies to prepare for this new wave of shopping.

“In an ideal world, and nine months ago, we were holding tens of millions of dollars less inventory than we are today,” Green said.

But the world changed in March. “We went through six months of toilet paper in about six days back in the first surge,” Green said. This time around, he has seen demand more than double just in the past week.

To prepare, Thrive went vertical in its warehouse for the first time. Historically, Green said, “our product is on the ground” for easy access. Now, “we not only need to use the 700,000 square feet of ground space but have stacked up multiple stories of pallets.”

Retailers have also gotten creative, cutting deals with lesser-known manufacturers that typically produce toilet paper and cleaning products for restaurants and office buildings to make more store-brand products, which can fill the shelves when name brands sell out.

“There’s a tremendous shift by the smart, strategic retailers in source of supply, drawing from excess inventory that was choking the food service and institutional manufacturers,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group. With most restaurants, hotels, offices and large venues closed due to the pandemic, that pivot has allowed the paper-goods market to meet elevated consumer demand.

The same holds true for cleaning products, according to Curry at Albertsons. Popular name-brand items, such as Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, have remained in short supply all year, so the grocer has started sourcing more of its own.

But the logistical difficulties of getting all that product from regional distribution centers to stores can pose a challenge. The disruptions to the global supply chain that began when the coronavirus first triggered lockdowns in China are still working their way through the system today, altering the typical delivery and shipment calendar for all sorts of consumer goods. The Port of Long Beach notched record-high volumes in October and into November, when in a typical year, the holiday shipping rush would have wound down earlier in the fall.

“Whether it’s imports going to distribution centers or food logistics, they spill over into each other,” said Shih, as businesses compete for space on ships, trucks and trains.

The downturn in the restaurant and institutional food service industry, however, has again proved a godsend for the grocery business.

When consumer demand for fresh produce spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, “refrigerated warehouses and refrigerated trucks were all kind of bulging in capacity,” said Michael Castagnetto, president of the produce division of logistics company C.H. Robinson. His company was able to tap into small regional warehouses typically used to store restaurant supplies, a strategy that helped grocers ride out the first wave.

The same customers that needed that extra cold storage in the spring got back in touch just last week, Castagnetto said, saying they need help again, “probably through New Year’s.”


California workers hired back, but recovery fears linger

California’s pandemic-plagued economy perked up in October, as employers brought back tens of thousands of furloughed workers. But the state has regained less than half the jobs it lost in the spring’s catastrophic downturn, and economists predict the recovery may have already stalled.

October’s unemployment rate dipped to 9.3% last month, down from 11% in September, as the state added 145,500 payroll jobs, for a total of 16.13 million, state officials reported. Many were in the most severely affected leisure and hospitality sector.

A year earlier, California unemployment stood at 3.9%. It rose to an unprecedented 16.4% in April and May.

Attesting to the roller-coaster nature of the virus’ labor impact, California jobs last month grew at twice the rate of the nation’s. It was the state’s third-highest single-month gain in at least three decades.

“We must be California dreaming,” said Loyola Marymount University economist Sung Won Sohn, of the larger-than-expected drop in joblessness. But he added, “The dream won’t last,” as the virus surges to unprecedented heights across the state and new restrictions on businesses take effect.

“The recovery is fragile at best,” he said. “Unlike the first wave in March and April, there is no massive government stimulus on the horizon to cushion the economy.”

Congress’ $2.2-trillion CARES Act, passed in March, sent billions of dollars of aid to laid-off workers in the form of a $1,200 stimulus check and a weekly unemployment supplement of $600. Jobless aid was reduced over the summer to $300 and has now expired. Multibillion-dollar loan programs for businesses have also lapsed.

A study this week by UCLA’s California Policy Lab predicts nearly 750,000 Californians will stop receiving unemployment insurance benefits by the end of next month when two other CARES Act programs expire, including one that extends state benefits and another that targets self-employed workers and independent contractors.

“The indifference of the federal government and the U.S. Senate to approve a new rescue package will slow down the recovery,” predicted Pomona College economist Fernando Lozano.

A jump in October’s labor force of more than 600,000, which includes both employees and job seekers, may reflect the fact that workers have run out of insurance benefits, suggested Lynn Reaser, an economist at San Diego’s Point Loma Nazarene University. Some may have found work, she said, but “it could be temporary as businesses are now being forced to close down with the surge in infections and new state restrictions.”

Nonetheless, the labor force was more than 200,000 workers smaller than a year earlier.

Even with the latest improvement, California’s October jobless rate is the fifth highest after Hawaii, Nevada, New York and Louisiana. . U.S. unemployment last month was 6.9%.

And California has lost more jobs during the pandemic than any other state at 1,369,400.

The October data also reflected the recovery’s uneven nature. Los Angeles County’s joblessness stood at 12.1%, down from 15.3% in September and well above other urban areas. Technology companies, with many employees operating from home, continued to buoy Northern California, where San Francisco’s unemployment rate was 6.9% and joblessness in Santa Clara County, encompassing San Jose, was 5.9%.

Los Angeles County added 79,100 payroll jobs last month, for a total of 4.23 million, a 1.9% increase. The county’s labor force grew by 127,000.

In Orange County, unemployment was 7.5% in October, down from 8.9% a month earlier. The county added 34,100 payroll positions last month for a total of 1.54 million, a 2.3% jump.

In the Inland Empire, encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino County, the October jobless rate was 9%, down from 10.2% a month earlier. The region gained 27,800 payroll jobs for a total of 1.45 million, a 2% rise.

Nine of California’s 11 major industry sectors gained jobs last month. Leisure and hospitality had the largest gain with an increase of 66,000 positions. Some hotels have benefited from local travel and many restaurants have ramped up outdoor seating, takeout and delivery.

Professional and business services jobs rose by 35,800. The sector includes many employees who can work from home, such as accountants, lawyers and computer technicians.

Government posted the largest job loss with a decline of 41,100 as census takers completed their work.

If October’s labor market showed marked improvement, November‘s indicators are already worrisome, as more Californians apply for unemployment benefits. Initial claims were up slightly this week, to 134,270 from 132,350, according to an Employment Development Department tracker.

Disney, one of the state’s largest employers, began laying off 28,000 workers this month across its theme parks and products and experience divisions, with about 10,000 of those layoffs hitting the Disneyland Resort parks, hotels and stores in Anaheim.

Universal Studios Hollywood has already cut its workforce by as many as 7,000 employees through furloughs, layoffs and cuts to work shifts.

The two giant theme parks have been closed since March.

California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires employers to file a 60-day advance notice of mass layoffs with the state. Among the latest notices: San Diego’s historic Hotel del Coronado said it would furlough 563 workers. Princess Cruises in Santa Clarita announced 114 permanent layoffs. Weber Metals, a Paramount manufacturer, said it would permanently lay off 99 employees.

“Gov. Newsom’s recent orders for late-night curfews and closure of indoor dining for restaurants and bars, and other nonessential businesses, will lead to another spike in joblessness in the weeks ahead,” predicted Scott Anderson, chief economist of the Bank of the West in San Francisco.

“Daily mobility data, restaurant reservation data and TSA checkpoint visits are already showing negative trends,” he added. “Those are bound to only get worse with the coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge and Congress dithers on another coronavirus relief bill.

“While recent vaccine news is welcome and will eventually liberate the California economy, we still have a long winter ahead to get there.”

The jobs report is based on two federal surveys, one of 5,100 California households and one of 80,000 businesses in the state, conducted the week of Oct. 12.