Good Friday: No Wall Street today. Probably just as well.
Property taxes cut: Here's one plus about the sour housing market: With home values falling, county tax officials are reducing property assessments on many houses. Of course it also means less money for local governments, which are scraping by as it is. The values of more than 41,000 homes have been reassessed downward so far in Los Angeles County, resulting in an average tax saving of $660. From the LAT:
In Riverside County, which has been particularly hard hit by the housing slump, the assessor's office has been fielding at least 100 calls a day from people concerned about property values and wanting to know when and how theirs will be reassessed, said county Assessor Larry Ward. "It is a huge job," said Orange County Assessor Webster J. Guillory, who, like officials in other counties, still expects growth in the overall property tax base. "We will do it with existing staff and lots of overtime paid for weekend work and 10-hour days. We don't have nearly enough staff to do this level of work."
Pellicano gets interesting: After the dull-as-dishwater testimony of Paramount head Brad Grey, the ex-wife of developer Robert Maguire is finally spicing up the wiretap trial. Testifying under a grant of immunity, Susan Maguire said she heard recordings made by Pellicano of her husband's conversations with his psychiatrist, onetime mistress, and architect Frank Gehry. Pellicano supposedly told the wife that Robert Maguire had plenty of hidden assets, including aircraft and a Pasadena home he allegedly bought for his mistress through a friend who is also a major real estate developer (talk about a TV series). Anyway it was the first time in the two-week-old trial that a former Pellicano client had acknowledged listening to the alleged wiretaps. From the LAT:
At Pellicano's Sunset Strip offices, Maguire said, the private eye took her into a lab room with computers and had her put on headphones. It was then, she testified, that she heard a recording of her ex-husband "in great distress" talking to his psychiatrist by phone. Though Pellicano was thrilled with the recording, Maguire said, she was troubled. "I didn't want to listen," she told the jury. "It was awful. It was very upsetting to me." Maguire said she asked Pellicano and his then-assistant: " 'Is this legal?' " "What was his response?" Assistant U.S. Atty. Kevin Lally asked. "He said, 'yes,' " Maguire recalled. But a moment later, she said, Pellicano and his assistant "began laughing."
Newsday update: It turns out that Tribune Co. is conducting a soft auction for the Long Island newspaper in which a selected number of buyers have been approached. Rupert Murdoch's interest was reported yesterday, but it's still unclear whether it's an outright offer or some sort of joint venture. And apparently there are two other moguls in the hunt: Mortimer B. Zuckerman (he owns the NY Daily News), and James L. Dolan (his family controls Cablevision). The paper is owned by Tribune Co., which took on huge amounts of debt in its recent deal to go private.(NYT)
Breslin's take: Newsday's preeminent columnist doesn't sound especially interested in who the owner turns out to be. "What's the difference?" he told Portfolio.com. "What the hell do I care? The fucking days are gone when you can worry about who owns what. Are people going to get paid? That's all I care about. He's a great newspaper owner if he pays." So what about current CEO Sam Zell? "I know he rides a motorcycle, don't he? Fucking bullshit. If he's starting to cut and it's the first time around, well -- the Chicago Tribune, you can't cut that. It's the most overrated newspaper in America."
Gas prices settling: They're still up for the week, but by only 2.3 cents, according to the Auto Club's latest survey. The average price in L.A. is now $3.615.
Gibson vs. Activision: The Nasvhille-based musical instrument maker is now demanding that Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, Amazon, GameStop and Toys-R-Us pull all copies of Activision’s "Guitar Hero" series from their shelves. In addition, Gibson is seeking unspecified damages from the merchants. Santa Monica-based Activision is embroiled in a patent dispute with Gibson. (NY Post)
Starbucks tip dispute: A San Diego Superior Court judge awarded $105 million to baristas working at the chain's California stores. She ruled that the company had wrongly allowed supervisors to share in tips. Under California labor law, tips can be pooled and shared among workers, but managers and supervisors cannot get any of the action. Starbucks said it would appeal the decision, which it described as “fundamentally unfair and beyond all common sense and reason.” (NYT)