UNIVERSAL CITY – Local business leaders packed a hotel ballroom Thursday to hear an economic forecast about job rates and inflation, but home prices were what seemed to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue. Speakers at the 2007 San Fernando Valley Economic Summit at the Sheraton Universal Hotel focused on price declines (deeper in some areas), interest rates (look for an end-of-the-year adjustment) and how this housing downturn compares with those in the past (prices won’t fall as far). Five of eight breakout sessions addressed real estate. At one session, state Real Estate Commissioner Jeff Davi, who oversees licensing and regulation of real estate brokers and agents, said housing prices would inevitably inch up after the current cycle plays out. For the meantime, he saw one positive angle to level prices. “Housing prices staying flat are a good thing for businesses looking to hire people,” Davi said. At another session, panelists lamented a shrinking pool of industrial real estate and predicted shifts north to the Simi, Antelope and Central valleys. Industrial land is often also zoned for commercial, which fetches higher prices per square foot. “Industrial is going away unless something happens,” said John Degrinis, an executive at a commercial real estate organization, Collier International. The preoccupation with real estate is tied to what Valley companies said, during a survey, was the No. 1 issue they face: finding skilled workers. The survey polled 70 midsize businesses and was conducted by Davis Research as part of an annual economic forecast released Thursday from the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at California State University, Northridge. One-third of those surveyed said not being able to find enough employees topped their list of concerns, followed by 23 percent listing the rising cost of labor and health insurance. High residential real estate prices make it difficult for businesses to find a location where employees can afford to live. Long commutes, in turn, deter prospective workers and create a labor shortage. Debbie Kukta, vice president of Trojan Rivet Corp., said few of her employees can afford to live near the company’s factory in Glendale. Rivet has a task force to address the issue but there is little the company can do. “We try to pay them the highest wages we can,” Kukta said. But prices are “out of our control.” Douglas Snider sees another side to the story. As president of Wireless Applications & Management Corporation in Calabasas, he turns to regions with high housing prices because that’s where potential clients live. “For my target, it attracts the right clients,” Snider said. firstname.lastname@example.org (818) 713-3735
160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused Friday to give Congress details of the government’s investigation into interrogations of terror suspects that were videotaped and destroyed by the CIA. He said doing so could raise questions about whether the inquiry is vulnerable to political pressure. In letters to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees that oversee the Justice Department, Mukasey also said there is no need right now to appoint a special prosecutor to lead the investigation. The preliminary inquiry currently is being handled by the Justice Department and the CIA’s inspector general. “I am aware of no facts at present to suggest that department attorneys cannot conduct this inquiry in an impartial manner,” Mukasey wrote to Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat and Republican, respectively, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “If I become aware of information that leads me to a different conclusion, I will act on it.” Meantime, Senate Republicans blocked a bill Friday that would restrict the CIA’s interrogation methods. Already passed by the House, the bill would require the CIA to adhere to the Army’s field manual on interrogation, which bans waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh methods. Senate opponents discovered a parliamentary flaw: The ban on harsh tactics had not been in the original intelligence bills passed by the House and Senate. Instead, it was added during negotiations between the two chambers to write a compromise bill. That move could violate a Senate rule intended to protect legislation from last-minute amendments that neither house of Congress has had time to fully consider. Although it’s not unheard of for new language to be added in House-Senate negotiations, the rules allow such a move to be challenged and the language stripped from the bill. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., placed a hold on the bill while the GOP procedural challenge goes forward. Addressing congressional demands for facts in the CIA tapes inquiry, Mukasey noted that the Justice Department generally does not give out information about pending cases. “This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence,” Mukasey wrote. “Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter, but appreciate the committee’s interests in this matter.” An almost-identical letter was sent Thursday to Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee.