Entries in Los Angeles (11)


Better Business Bureau Gives Itself an 'F' in Los Angeles

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The Better Business Bureau has expelled its Southern California chapter in the wake of an ABC News investigation into allegations of a "pay to play" culture in which higher ratings were awarded to businesses that paid for membership status.

"They did not meet our standards, it resulted in expulsion," said Carrie Hurt, the Better Business Bureau president and CEO.

Among the allegations, an ABC News report in 2010 found the Southern California chapter had given an "A-" rating to a phony business naming itself as the Hamas terror group.  The listing had been registered by an anonymous blogger who paid a $425 membership fee.

"They ran the credit card," said the blogger, "and within twelve hours [Hamas was] an approved, accredited member."

Other business owners, including celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who has regularly appeared on ABC News programs, said they were told they had to pay in order to get an "A" grade.

"If you don't pay, it's very difficult to get an A," Puck said after receiving an "F" rating for one part of his food empire.

The story was "painful but true," said Hurt.

She said the corporation that runs the California chapter "no longer has the right to use the Better Business Bureau name, our logo, or any of our trademarks."

In a letter dated March 8 to the national office, Jerry Dominguez, the chairman of the board of directors of the Southern California chapter, the largest in the country, admitted the Hamas "A-" grade was a mistake, but disputed the allegations of widespread problems and said the chapter had resigned before it could be expelled because of the "absurd proposed terms" the national office wanted to impose on the selection of its executives.

"Frankly, we're disgusted with the actions of Council and we find resignation to be not just the only, but the best, course of action for us," Dominguez wrote.

Founded 100 years ago, the Better Business Bureau had enjoyed a sterling reputation as a consumer watchdog group until the ABC News report and complaints from business owners.

Hurt said she was eager to dispel the belief that there was a "pay to play" culture throughout the organization.

"Our ratings are not for sale," she said.  "Our standards are not for sale."

Hurt says the BBB is looking to partner with a new organization in Southern California but insists consumers can still find help through the organization's website.

"There will not be a local entity there immediately.  We'll be working for that long-term.  But the services will absolutely be there," she says.

The group that made up the now-former BBB in Southern California is continuing operations under a new name, Business Consumer Alliance.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles Restaurant Discounts for No-Phone Dining

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Do you know how attached you are to your cellphone?  If you don’t, then a new discount offered at Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles will help you find out.

The new policy offers 5 percent off the total bill to diners that leave their cellphones at the door.

Eva’s owner and chef, Mark Gold, said that policy was implemented to motivate diners to sit back and enjoy their food and the people that are actually there with them.

“We want people to try and connect.  Our restaurant is kind of like home and that is the experience that we want to give to our customers,” said Gold.  “The phone is a distraction.  We always see families and couples on their phones and they just aren’t in the moment.  We want people to enjoy their company.”

Gold said that about 40 percent of his patrons have taken advantage of his offer.

Recently, technology has become almost unavoidable in restaurants.  It seems like food paparazzi are always ready to take pictures of their food and upload it to various social media such as Instagram and Pinterest.  Not to mention legions of diners tapping away at their smart phones and taking calls, oblivious to those around them.

Other restaurants have implemented similar policies to try to hinder cellphone usage, but Gold hopes that his new policy will motivate people to stop doing something that he is also guilty of.

“I’m guilty of it as well.  When my wife and I go to dinner it seems like the cellphone is part of the table setting now.  Every table you look at, it’s a wine glass, the silverware and the cellphone,” he joked.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles City Attorney Calls US Bank 'Slumlord'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- "This case concerns defendant U.S. Bank National Association, a national bank that has become one of the largest slumlords in the City of Los Angeles," begins a lawsuit brought by the L.A. city attorney's office.

The complaint alleges that U.S. Bank, through foreclosures, has become since 2008 the owner of "thousands of residential properties" in L.A. "which it has completely failed to maintain."  The result, it says, is that hundreds of these homes have fallen into disrepair, "causing blight and destabilizing communities."

A city press release says the bank's potential liability is in the "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Tom Joyce, director of corporate public relations for Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp (U.S. Bank), says in an email statement to ABC News that the bank, no less than the city attorney, is troubled that properties are not properly maintained and have a corrosive impact on neighborhoods.

He says, however, that the city attorney has chosen the wrong party to sue: U.S. Bank is not the owner of the properties, "nor are we responsible for the servicing" of them.

The homes, says the bank's statement, are owned by trusts and by investors in those trusts.  Only the companies to whom homeowners send their mortgage payments are responsible for the homes' upkeep.

"It is clear from the complaint that the city does not understand our role," the bank's email says.

Frank Mateljan, spokesman for the city attorney's office, says he understands U.S. Bank's role just fine.

"They're named on the deed," Mateljan tells ABC News.  "Much as the bank would like to blame gardeners and the pool man, it's the bank's responsibility to maintain these properties or to sell them to somebody who can."

A press release from the city attorney's office about the lawsuit says U.S. Bank was notified repeatedly about the substandard condition of the buildings, and that, despite this repeated notice, it failed to respond or to address the problem.

The bank says it entered into extensive discussions with the attorney's staff, and that it made "multiple requests over the past couple of years to obtain detailed information" as to which properties were in disrepair.  Only recently, it says, did the city provide it with the information.

Says Mateljan, "We find that funny and disturbing at the same time -- a major bank asking, 'Tell us what properties we own and which are in disrepair.'  If you're the owner and named on the deed, you have the benefits of being owner and the burden of maintenance."

L.A.'s suit, he says, is very similar to one the city brought last year against Deutsche Bank.  These two actions "have lit a fire under both Deutsche Bank and U.S. Bank to get a better inventory of their properties, and do a better job keeping them up to code."  The Deutsche Bank case is pending.

Deutsche Bank's position is that the city attorney "has sued the wrong party," for reasons almost identical to those advanced by U.S. Bank.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles County Approves Construction of a Massive Solar Site

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- After resolving a code conflict dealing with certification and health and safety requirements, the public works department, First Solar Inc. has restarted their August 2011 construction of a solar power plant according the LA Times.

The construction will be hiring up to 400 workers, and the site will be located in the northern part of the county on a 2,100-acre property previously used for agriculture.

The 230-megawatt power plant will hopefully provide 75,000 homes with electricity when they are set to open in 2013.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oscars Theater No Longer Named Kodak?

LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Cameras are certain to flash and stars to flood the streets of Hollywood for the Oscars a week from Sunday, but the name of the theater where the stars will gather is unclear.

That’s because a court on Wednesday authorized to The Eastman Kodak Co. to end its sponsorship of the Kodak Theatre, the venue for the Oscars. It was unclear Thursday when the sponsorship would cease and the name of the theater would officially change.

“Kodak is a company that has been transforming,” Kodak spokesman Christopher Veronda told ABC News. “It was part of the bankruptcy court proceedings. We are taking a number of actions to reduce the cost that we undertook.”

The 20-year sponsorship agreement was signed in 2000 and was worth $72 million. New York bankruptcy court judge Allan Gropper turned down the plea by CIM/H&H Media, the landlord of the theater, to force the Eastman Kodak Co. to continue the contract.

ABC News contacted CIM but the company declined to comment.

Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, and has since made cuts to save money. This month, it released a statement announcing “plans to phase out its dedicated capture devices business -- comprising digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frames.”

The push to end the theater sponsorship was another move to cut back while the company tried to rebound from debt. If it had stuck to the contract, Kodak would have had to pay about $3 million each year.

The Kodak Theatre laid out the red carpet and opened its doors at the Hollywood and Highland complex in November 2001. Since it opened, 10 Oscar ceremonies have been held there.

Veronda insisted that although the sponsorship had to end, Kodak’s relationship with the entertainment industry will continue.

“Kodak is proud of its important role in the entertainment industry and our longstanding relationship with filmmakers,” Veronda said. “We continue to play a big role in the entertainment industry.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


After 35 Years, LA's Philippe’s Ends 10 Cent Cup of Coffee

Gerald Zanetti/FoodPix(LOS ANGELES) -- Philippe’s restaurant in Los Angeles says it is the “home of the original French dip sandwich,” and until now, it has also bragged about its 9 cent coffee special with only 1 additional cent added for tax.

But that all changed Wednesday when the historic restaurant announced that on Feb. 2, customers will have to shell out 45 cents for their morning caffeine, with 5 cents tax.

When Philippe’s first moved to Los Angeles in 1951, coffee was just a nickel.  The price was raised to a dime in 1977 and remained that way until now.  The family-owned restaurant struggled with whether to increase the price because of the 35-year tradition.

Mark Massengill, manager and fourth-generation member of the founding family, told ABC News the rising price of coffee was just too much strain on their business to keep the price.

“We made the change because we felt it was time.  It wasn’t a decision that came easily.  The restaurant is based in tradition and 10 cent coffee has been an important part of that tradition,” Massengill told ABC News.  “It was difficult decision.  It was something we all talked about within the family.”

Philippe Mathieu started the original Philippe’s in 1908.  According to their website, one day in 1918 “Mathieu inadvertently dropped the sliced French roll into the roasting pan filled with juice still hot from the oven,” and accidentally created the French dipped sandwich.  The family has been running the restaurant ever since and it has become a staple for many individuals and families in the Los Angeles area.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Coming Soon: An iPad in Your Car's Center Console?

Alex Stone/ABC News(LOS ANGELES) -- The next car you drive could have a major high-tech upgrade.

The big automakers are giving people a preview of the technological advances they have in the works at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opened to the public on Friday.

While eco-friendly cars are still popular, they say consumer demand for high-tech vehicles is even bigger.

“They want voice activated controls and they want to be able to customize the interior of their car like they would their tablet device,” says Jim Farley, vice president of sales at Ford.

Ford, General Motors and Toyota have flashy new systems they hope will attract buyers.

At Cadillac, which is owned by GM, engineers have designed a new system called Cue that is equivalent to putting an Apple iPad into the center console of their vehicles.  Drivers can move from screen to screen with the slide of a finger, and the pinch and stretch features popular on the iPad can be used to move maps in the car navigation system.

“We’ve really taken the interface that people are used to using in their everyday consumer electronic products like tablets and brought that user experience into the automotive space,” Stuart Norris, the engineer behind Cadillac’s Cue System, told ABC News Radio.

Toyota’s new system for its cars, premiering in the Camry, will allow users to use their center console screen to make dinner reservations on Open Table or buy tickets.  Apps will be downloaded and available much like they are on an iPhone and stored on the computer system within the car.

At Ford, the automaker is updating its MyFordTouch system, which has been criticized recently by some drivers who have become more accustomed to newer systems for being hard to use or finicky.

“We’re making it simpler, faster to respond and easier to use,” explains Alan Hall, an engineer on MyFordTouch.  “It launches on the new 2013 Escape, and Edge, and Flex.”

Current owners won’t have to take their Ford to a dealer to get updated.  Instead, Ford will be mailing USB drives to current owners of their compatible vehicles so they can update their MyFordTouch system themselves.

There are critics who believe giving drivers too much information and access to services like the Internet while driving is not a good thing.  TrueCar Vice President Jesse Toprak says automakers are walking a very fine line right now of giving customers what they want without giving them too much, such that it will distract their attention from the road.

“How badly do you need to check your Facebook updates while you’re driving?  Can’t you wait until you get home?” asks Toprak.

He also sees the other side of the issue, and says if car companies don’t offer the technology in their vehicles, drivers will seek it out on their phones anyway.

Most of the new iPad-like systems will be launching in the 2013 model year vehicles.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


LAPD Warns Job Seekers About Identity Theft

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating an employment scam that could lead to identity theft, and warns that the unemployed should be more cautious when applying for jobs online.  

The LAPD says victims are applying for jobs they find online and are told they need to pay an upfront fee for a background check. Job seekers are also asked to provide personal information like driver's license info and Social Security numbers.  

L.A. police say you should never pay fees to apply for a job and never give personal data to a possible employer online whom you've never met.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


JetBlue Offers $4 Flights So Flyers Can Flee California's 'Carmageddon'

Scott Olson/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- In what's being called "Carmageddon," drivers in California are preparing to change their travels plans this weekend as a 10-mile stretch of the heavily trafficked 405 freeway in Los Angeles shuts down for construction.

To help travelers cope with the anticipated mayhem, JetBlue Airways Corp. is offering shuttle flights between Long Beach and Burbank on Saturday for $4 each way, taxes and fees included.  The near 35-mile trip will take 20 minutes and is the airlines' shortest scheduled commercial flight.

The demand for the tickets appeared to be high; JetBlue announced on its website Wednesday evening that the flights had been sold out.  Earlier in the day, the website reported experiencing technical difficulties, possibly due to a growing number of travelers logging in to book a flight.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Controversial Head of L.A. Better Business Bureau Chapter Quits Job

Photo Courtesy - ANGELES) -- The CEO of the Los Angeles chapter of the Better Business Bureau, William Mitchell, has announced his resignation in the wake of an ABC News report into allegations that the chapter had engaged in a "pay for play" scheme by awarding more favorable ratings to businesses that paid for BBB membership. The announcement comes amidst an ongoing investigation of the chapter by the BBB's national headquarters.

Mitchell and the L.A. BBB have been blasted by critics for giving A-plus ratings only to businesses that pay an accreditation fee, while businesses that don't want to join are given lower grades, despite having few, if any unresolved complaints. The ABC News investigation also revealed that the L.A. BBB, known as the BBB of the Southland, sold memberships to non-existent businesses that immediately received A grades.

The L.A. probe was added to a previously announced list of actions the national BBB said it planned to take following the ABC News investigation, including no longer automatically awarding higher grades to businesses that pay for accreditation and conducting an "independent third party" review of its accrediting process. The controversial grading system that was used by the BBB nationwide was devised by Mitchell and first used by the Los Angeles chapter.

A spokesperson for the national BBB would not give further details on Mitchell's resignation. Mitchell was unavailable for immediate comment on his decision to resign.

The Los Angeles-area Better Business Bureau is by far the largest of the 108 BBB chapters in the U.S. and brings in the most revenue from membership fees. According to its 2009 tax filing, the L.A. BBB raked in over $6.2 million in accreditation fees in 2008 and paid longtime CEO Mitchell an annual salary of $409,490.

Mitchell devised the letter grade system to replace the previous "satisfactory/unsatisfactory" BBB rating, and has been using it in Southern California for the past five years.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio