Housing Starts Tumble in State

Housing starts dropped sharply in November in most of the state's major metropolitan areas, led by steep declines in single-family home construction, the California Building Industry Assn. said Tuesday. But housing starts for the first 11 months remained on pace with 2004's robust numbers and analysts expect this year to be one of the best on record for new construction. November's figures, though, reflect a gradual softening of the 5-year-old California housing boom. While single-family housing starts fell in the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego, the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area posted a 3.3 percent increase for the month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Controller Laura Chick Demands LAUSD Audits
Thwarted in her effort to audit the Los Angeles Unified School District, City Controller Laura Chick sent a letter Tuesday to schools Superintendent Roy Romer demanding all of his agency's audits from the past five years. Citing the state's Public Records Act, Chick told Romer that she wants all audits, reports and studies prepared by 13 entities that have reviewed the LAUSD, from the U.S. Department of Education to the steering committee that oversees the district's school construction program, Copley News Service reported. Chick said she made the request because Romer has used the various reports to argue that his agency does not need to be the subject of a city-commissioned audit.

Do Mayors Run Schools Better?
School systems in New York, Chicago and Boston boosted achievement and improved efficiency after being taken over by their cities' mayors, analysts say, supporting Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's claim that the Los Angeles district would improve if controlled from City Hall. In recent speeches to civic groups and educators, Villaraigosa has invoked these mayor-run school systems as models for the Los Angeles Unified School District, second largest in the nation and plagued by dismal achievement and poor graduation rates. But some question whether it's fair to compare LAUSD with other districts and whether the legal issues of a mayoral takeover would confound the process, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported.

Mammoth Ski Site Chief Interest Sold
Dave McCoy, founder and controlling shareholder of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, said Tuesday that an affiliate of Starwood Capital Group Global LLC has completed the purchase of the majority interest in Mammoth Mountain Ski Area for $365million. Rusty Gregory, who has worked for McCoy for 29 years, will continue as chairman and chief executive, with a 12.5percent interest in the company. Intrawest Corp. will retain a 15 percent interest. Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, an international investment bank, served as exclusive financial adviser to Mammoth Mountain and structured and negotiated the transaction on its behalf, the Pasadena Star News reported.

Lenders Target State Laws
A booming industry that makes home loans to people with fragile credit is lobbying Congress for nationwide rules that regulators and consumer advocates warn would roll back tougher state protections. The debate comes as millions of Americans have taken out loans with higher fees and interest rates than the mortgages granted to people with solid credit. As these "sub-prime" loans have proliferated, so have complaints from borrowers who say they've been slammed by surprise fees and high-pressure salespeople, the Los Angeles Times reported. The industry's five biggest players are based in California, and one, Orange-based Ameriquest Mortgage Co., is nearing a $325-million settlement with 33 states over allegations of bait-and-switch tactics and inflated appraisals.

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