As L.A. City Hall is going through a changing of the guard, so is the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. In the next few weeks, chamber officials are expected to announce their choice for a permanent president and chief executive to replace the Ezunial "Eze" Burts, who resigned earlier this year.

Change is coming more quickly in the chamber's lobbying division, which has been hit with three departures in the last seven weeks, including its two most senior lobbyists.

First, legislative manager Jerry Jeffe left in late June to take the legislative aide post with new City Councilwoman Janice Hahn. That move, while somewhat unexpected, was not regarded as a blow for the chamber, since Jeffe is still expected to work closely with the organization, just from inside City Hall.

But four weeks ago, the chamber's top lobbyist, Anita Zusman, resigned, followed two weeks later by one of her aides, Juan Gonzales (who took a post in Long Beach.)

Meanwhile, the chamber announced last week the hiring of longtime community activist and recent Fifth District City Council candidate Robyn Ritter Simon as the chamber's new "City Hall liaison."

It was the resignation of Zusman that drew the most attention. Officially, she parted on amicable terms with chamber management, according to interim president Tom Decker. Zusman herself was on vacation on the East Coast last week and couldn't be reached for comment. But her resignation sent tongues wagging, both inside and outside City Hall. Unlike the other two departures, Zusman was not lured away by a better job offer.

More importantly, according to several sources, there is a widespread perception that the chamber has not been as effective as other business organizations namely the Central City Association and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association at lobbying City Hall. Opinions are split as to whether this was due to the lobbying group itself or the chamber's overall lack of focus or to some combination of both.

Whatever the case, Simon has quite a challenge ahead. Founder of the Beverlywood Moms community organization, she has little experience advocating on such matters as business tax reform, likely to be one of the first big issues on her plate.

Business Tax Amnesty

Speaking of business tax reform, L.A. city officials are preparing to launch a massive amnesty program aimed at getting scofflaw businesses to pay up. The city is spending $300,000 for a marketing blitz next month to alert businesses in the city to the amnesty program, which starts Oct. 1 and goes through Dec. 31. Under the amnesty, if businesses pay the back taxes they owe, they will not be assessed late penalties of up to 40 percent of their total tax bill.

Antoinette Christovale, the city's finance director, added that she expects this amnesty to generate an additional $20 million for city coffers, the same amount netted by the last amnesty back in 1995. "We're being conservative in our projections," she said.

PLA Saga Continues

Earlier this year, non-union contractors in L.A. and throughout the nation rejoiced when President Bush enacted a partial ban on project labor agreements, in which all the work on certain massive construction projects goes to contractors who agree to abide by union pay schedules and work rules.

But last week, it was the turn of labor unions to celebrate as a federal judge in the District of Columbia granted an injunction against the Bush ban, which applied to projects that receive federal funding. While the injunction was specifically granted for a Maryland bridge project, the ruling was perceived by both labor unions and non-union contractors as having national implications.

Staff Reporter Howard Fine can be contacted by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227 or by e-mail at

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