ASSISTANCE: Colony Capital LLC, a Santa Monica investment firm better known for its real estate deals, has entered into a long-term agreement with Annie Leibovitz to help the celebrity photographer manage her debt and stay out of bankruptcy. Under the agreement, Colony reportedly will partner with Leibovitz to market her portfolio – including future traveling exhibitions or books of her iconic work. The 60-year-old photographer, known best for her celebrity portraits in magazines such as Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, has had well-publicized financial troubles for more than a year, falling behind on a loan with Art Capital Group, a Manhattan firm that provides financing for artists.

JOBLESS: Los Angeles County lost 74,000 payroll jobs in January, pushing the unemployment rate up to 12.5 percent. California Employment Development Department figures show that the unemployment rate was up two-tenths of a point since December, matching the statewide figure, both of which are considerably higher than the 9.7 percent national rate. It also is significantly higher than the 10.1 percent rate the county posted in January 2009. The carnage was widespread, with nine of 11 major industry sectors reporting losses, led by drops in retail, business services, entertainment and private education.

NEW TAX: Moving to prevent numerous Internet-related businesses from leaving the city, the Los Angeles City Council voted to create a new, lower business tax category specifically for Internet companies. The decision came after months of controversy over the city’s efforts to reclassify several Internet-related businesses into higher business tax categories. Concerns were that creation of the Internet tax rate could result in the loss of up to $3.4 million a year in business tax revenue. The new category, which will take effect for the current tax year, would put an estimated 1,400 Internet-related businesses in the city’s lowest business tax bracket.

LAWSUIT: Calibra Pictures, maker of the small independent film “Iron Cross,” has sued Variety, charging that the Hollywood trade publication damaged the film’s prospects. The suit contends that Variety sold the film’s producer an expensive promotional package, then allowed its editorial department to savage the film in a review that drove off potential distributors. The complaint accuses Variety of unfair business practices, contractual breach, negligence, fraud and deceit.

WHALE STING: After a sting operation, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Typhoon Restaurant Inc., owner of Santa Monica sushi restaurant Hump. The restaurant is accused of illegally selling Sei whale meat in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sei whales are listed as an endangered species. Federal authorities began investigating Hump after the filmmakers behind the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” found that the sushi restaurant was offering whale meat to customers.

GO PUBLIC? Isaac Larian, chief executive of Bratz doll maker MGA Entertainment Inc., said at an industry event in Milan, Italy, that the controversial Van Nuys company may consider selling shares in an initial public offering. Larian, who controls more than 80 percent of MGA, said in a media interview that he didn’t pursue an IPO last year because of ongoing copyright litigation with rival toymaker Mattel Inc. over the Bratz line. Larian was in Italy to announce that Giochi Preziosi SpA will distribute his company’s latest Moxie Girlz doll line in Italy, France, Greece and Turkey.

CONTRACT: Northrop Grumman Corp. was awarded a follow-on contract valued at up to $100 million from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to electronically convert and store federal employee records. To date, the L.A. company has processed 1 million records at more than 35 federal agencies, making the project one of the largest electronic record initiatives in the federal government.

ENDORSED: Bundy Village, an 11.5-acre medical facility and senior housing project in West Los Angeles, has been approved by the Los Angeles Planning Commission. The approval came after the developer, Stonebridge Holdings Inc., agreed to downsize parts of the planned development, which is proposed for the northwest corner of Bundy Drive at Olympic Boulevard. Stonebridge also agreed to reduce the height of one of the project’s five buildings from 13 to nine stories, and revised streetscape and traffic mitigation plans. The project still requires City Council approval.

FILM HEDGE: Two trading firms are launching a box-office futures exchange that would allow Hollywood studios and others to hedge against the box-office performance of movies, similar to the way farmers swap corn or wheat futures to protect themselves from crop failures. The Cantor Exchange, formed by New York firm Cantor Fitzgerald and Midwest company Veriana Networks, demonstrated the system to Hollywood recently, creating a trading-floor atmosphere with participants making guesses and bets on how "Alice in Wonderland" would do at the box office.

METER READER: Natural gas consumers could pay more than $1 billion to put so-called "smart" meters on their homes under a proposal by Southern California Gas Co. The Los Angeles company, which serves the area from Fresno to the Mexican border, said the meters will provide customers information about how much gas they use. The utility acknowledges that use of the meters can only reduce gas consumption by 1 percent annually. Consumer groups and labor groups denounce the idea as an expensive. boondoggle. The proposal was scheduled for consideration at the Public Utilities Commission last week.

EARNINGS: AeroVironment Inc. reported net income of $6.5 million, 44 percent higher than a year earlier. Revenue rose 17 percent to $60.9 million. … Hot Topic Inc. reported net income of $8 million, 43 percent lower than a year earlier. Sales fell 10 percent to $214 million. … BreitBurn Energy Partners LP reported a net loss of $39.7 million, compared with net income of $251 million a year earlier. Total revenue fell 91 percent to $38.3 million.

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