Judge OKs Suit Over Grocer Pact

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a controversial mutual-aid pact between the three grocery chains involved in Southern California's bitter supermarket labor dispute could be challenged on federal antitrust grounds. The decision was a partial victory for California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, who filed the lawsuit alleging that the agreement , in which the chains shared nearly $150 million to help each other weather the dispute , violated U.S. antitrust laws. The chains , Safeway Inc., which owns Vons and Pavilions; Kroger Co., the parent of Ralphs; and Albertsons Inc. , sought to have the suit thrown out, arguing that the pact was protected under labor laws, the Los Angeles Times reported.

LAX Prepares for Busy Summer Season
LAX Airport and air carrier officials are predicting that 5.1 million international travelers will pass through LAX this summer, 10 percent more than last year and surpassing the record 4.9 million that used the airport in the summer of 2001. Overall, the airport expects 18.5 million travelers this summer, about 500,000 fewer than four years ago. The summer travel season officially kicks off Friday and runs through Labor Day. LAX directors expect 800,000 passengers to flow through the airport's nine terminals this weekend, a 6 percent climb over last year's numbers, the Daily Breeze reported. Airport officials attributed the leap in international travel to the weak dollar and low air fares

Olvera Street Leases in Question
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has raised serious legal and public safety concerns about a pending master lease agreement that gives Olvera Street merchants below-market rents, warning it might be an illegal gift of public funds, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported. According to a copy of an April 6 letter to interim Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry F. Miller, Delgadillo called for new appraisals before the proposed 55-year leases are finalized for merchants at the historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument. Villaraigosa, who worked with merchants and city officials toward the master lease agreement, pledged to address the issues.

Hahn Fundraiser Abrams Faces Felony Counts
A major fundraiser for Mayor James Hahn's anti-secession and other campaigns was charged Wednesday with conspiracy and laundering political contributions, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported. Real estate developer Mark Alan Abrams of Beverly Hills surrendered at the downtown Criminal Courts Building just hours after District Attorney Steve Cooley filed two felony counts of conspiracy and 10 misdemeanor counts. The charges involve making political contributions under false names to Hahn and two of his allies, Councilman Tony Cardenas and ex-Councilman Nick Pacheco. Abramspleaded not guilty, but his attorney, Nathan Hochman, said he will plead guilty in the near future as part of a proposed plea bargain.

Mattel Builds on American Girl's Success
Mattel Inc. said today that it will open its third American Girl Place store, in the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles' Fairfax district, the Los Angeles Times reported. The store, aimed at girls 7 to 11 and modeled on successful locations in Chicago and New York, will open next spring in the space shuttered by toy retailer FAO Schwarz Inc. Building a premium toy store on the site of a failed counterpart may not seem like the smartest bet, but analysts say the two retailers' approaches are different. American Girl's sales , $379.1 million in 2004 , come primarily from its catalog, Web site and two flagship stores.

FTC Drops Probe of Shell Refinery Plans
Shell Oil Co. wasn't attempting to squeeze fuel supplies and boost pump prices in California when it announced plans in 2003 to close its Bakersfield refinery, federal antitrust authorities said Wednesday. The Federal Trade Commission said it found "strong evidentiary corroboration" of the oil giant's stated reasons for closing the 70,000-barrel-a-day refinery and would drop its yearlong investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Houston-based unit of Royal Dutch/Shell Group cited oil supply problems and economic factors for the planned closure. But after public officials intervened, the refinery was sold in March to Flying J Inc., a Utah truck stop operator.

Friendster CEO Quits as Site Traffic Drops
Former NBC Entertainment President Scott Sassa resigned Wednesday as chief executive of Friendster Inc., the innovative social-networking Web site now falling victim to the same buzz that made it a cultural phenomenon, the Los Angeles Times reported. Sassa was hired a year ago to transform Friendster into a media company supported by advertising. But as Friendster slid further behind upstart rivals, Sassa decided last month that he couldn't do it. The Friendster board hired Taek Kwon, an executive vice president in IAC/InterActiveCorp's Citysearch unit, to succeed Sassa on June 13. The Mountain View company also said it had laid off five employees, leaving a staff of 50.

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