Arco Sheds Coal

Downtown L.A.-based Atlantic Richfield Co. has agreed to sell its domestic coal operations to Arch Coal Inc. for $1.14 billion. The deal, if consummated, would make St. Louis-based Arch Coal the nation’s second-largest coal producer and the dominant producer of desirable low-sulfur coal, which can be used to generate electricity without violating environmental standards.

Under the deal, Arco is selling its coal operations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Sumitomo to Sell California Operation

Japanese banking giant Sumitomo Bank Ltd. will become one of the first Asian banks to divest itself of a major U.S. division by agreeing to sell its California assets to Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorporation for $546 million.

Zions, which has $9 billion in assets, will take over San Francisco-based Sumitomo Bank of California, which has $5 billion in assets and is the sixth largest bank in California. The bank has 47 branches and 15,000 employees. No layoffs were announced.

Zions has 184 branches and operates in Utah, Nevada, Colorado and California.

Sumitomo’s decision to sell was prompted by hundreds of billions of dollars in bad loans and the downturn in Asian economies. Sumitomo owns about 85 percent of the California unit. The rest is publicly owned.

People’s Bank Going Public

PBOC Holdings Inc., the parent of People’s Bank of California, announced that it plans to raise an estimated $218.5 million by going public through an initial public offering. People’s Bank has $2.2 billion in assets and operates 19 branches in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. The Los Angeles-based bank did not didn’t divulge the number, the price or percentage of its common shares to be sold to investors. Sandler O’Neill & Partners will underwrite the sale of the shares, which PBOC plans to trade on the Nasdaq under the symbol PBOC.

MOCA Director Resigns

Richard Koshalek, who guided the Museum of Contemporary Art from the drawing board to a reality, is stepping down after 15 years as director of the downtown institution. He plans to leave in the summer of 1999, fulfilling his contract signed four years ago. After that, Koshalek will serve as a consultant to the museum for five years When Koshalek arrived in Los Angeles, the planned museum had a mere $50,000 in the bank, a staff or three professionals and no art. Today, MOCA operates with a $10 million annual budget and has a staff of 75. The museum attracts nearly a half million visitors a year and has a collection of 4,000 pieces of contemporary art. Under Koshalek’s leadership, MOCA is finishing up a $25 million capital campaign that will bring its endowment to $50 million. Before coming to Los Angeles Koshalek was the director of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y. from 1976 to 1980. He joined MOCA in 1980 at the invitation of trustee Eli Broad. His first post was deputy director and chief curator.

Times Targets Westside

Hoping to capitalize on the recent closing of the Santa Monica Outlook, the Los Angeles Times has begun publishing a weekly section, called Our Times. The new section covers Santa Monica, Venice and neighboring Westside communities. It is published on Thursdays and produced by the Times Community News, a Times Mirror Co. subsidiary that publishes community newspapers in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Some 64,000 copies of the Times will be inserted into Thursday editions. Orli Low, the city editor of the Westside Weekly edition of the Times, has been named editor of Our Times and heads a staff of six.

Term Limits Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that California voters, not federal judges, are entitled to decide how long state lawmakers can serve in office. The decision ends the legal challenges to California term limits for state lawmakers. Former assemblyman Tom Bates of Oakland, who was forced from office in 1996, had been trying to overturn the term limit law. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law constitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the matter further. The decision means that state assembly members can hold office for no more than six years and state senators are limited to eight years.

Pac Bell Centers to Close

To cut costs, Pacific Bell will close its 25 remaining bill payment centers around the state including two in Los Angeles and one in Torrance. Pac Bell has asked state regulators for permission to close eight of the offices by the end of May and the rest over the next several months.

The telephone company said only 6 percent of its customers use the payment centers. The closings are being opposed by consumer groups and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, a division of the state Public Utilities Commission. They say the closures would be a hardship for low-income customers who would have to hunt for retailers who have agreed to accept PacBell payments. Mailing in phone payments is problematic for such customers because they do not have checking accounts.

Feds Target Merrill Lynch

Federal authorities intend to take civil action against Wall Street titan Merrill Lynch & Co. for its role in Orange County’s $1.6 billion securities loss, the investment firm disclosed.

Merrill Lynch acted as the county’s chief investment underwriter and helped sell $875 million in bonds as the county tumbled toward bankruptcy. The firm faces charges of negligence for failing to warn investors about the risky nature of the bonds, which were bought by 25 pension funds, mutual funds and insurers. The bonds were defaulted on as a result of Orange County’s bankruptcy. Investors, however, were eventually paid in full, including interest.

Spelling Seeks Relief

Producer Aaron Spelling has asked a judge to toss out a $5 million judgement won by an actress who convinced a jury that she was fired from “Melrose Place” because he was pregnant.

Spelling’s attorneys said the judgement was made by a “runaway jury” and is excessive. Spelling is seeking either a new trial or a sharp reduction in the award made to actress Hunter Tylo, who had been fired from the Fox show in 1996. Spelling maintained that the pregnancy was a material change in the actress’s appearance and made her unsuitable for the role.

A decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Fumiko Wasserman is expected this week.

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