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Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara Under Fire

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Ricardo Lara’s troubles aside, reverting to an appointed insurance commissioner would hurt consumers

by Harvey Rosenfeld

SACRAMENTO (CalMatters) — Where the troubling trail of accusations dogging Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara will lead is hard to tell. State records show that insurance industry executives and their relatives gave tens of thousands of dollars to Lara’s campaign committee–even as he intervened on their behalf in cases before his agency.

We’ll know more on Aug. 31. That’s when Lara has promised to make public his communications and calendars of meetings with the executives.

Whatever happens then, one principle is clear: the public’s ability to hold the Insurance Commissioner accountable at the ballot box—a reform adopted by California voters in 1988 by an initiative I wrote—remains their best protection against a wayward regulator.

We learned that lesson the hard way. When insurance commissioners were appointed by governors, skyrocketing insurance premiums for auto, home and even medical malpractice coverage routinely destabilized the economy.

In the 1980s, the Legislature required Californians to buy auto insurance, and young African American and Latino men were charged thousands of dollars for coverage that they could not afford.

Then Gov. George Deukmejian and his appointed commissioner stood by and did nothing while the insurance companies feasted on our flesh, immune from regulation, civil rights and antitrust lawsuits or any other form of accountability for their behavior.

In 1988, voters took matters into their own hands and enacted a series of powerful consumer protections against excessive insurance rates and abusive practices. To force the insurance companies to obey these unprecedented reforms, the initiative made the insurance commissioner an elected position, providing aspiring politicians a powerful incentive to enforce the laws, and, if they did that job well, a platform for higher office.

Mandating political accountability worked. Under elected insurance commissioners, California’s auto insurance rates have actually dropped over the last 30 years. By contrast, states across America saw liability premiums rise by an average of 58%.

The Consumer Federation of America reported in 2018 that California drivers alone have saved $150 billion on their auto insurance bills since 1989. Only 11 states have appointed insurance commissioners.

The first elected Insurance Commissioner, Congressman John Garamendi, established a tradition: He vowed never to take money from the companies he regulated. Only two insurance commissioners have violated this unwritten rule.

Twenty years ago, Chuck Quackenbush created an off the books slush fund with insurance company money, in exchange for favorable treatment for companies accused of stiffing policyholders on Northridge earthquake claims.

Facing impeachment and possible prosecution, Quackenbush resigned in 2000. Once described as a promising candidate for statewide office, Quackenbush moved to Florida where he became a police officer.

Unlike Quackenbush, who made his public hostility to 103’s reforms a fundraising tool, newly elected Insurance Commissioner Lara has presented himself as a progressive with a pro-consumer agenda.

That makes all the more jarring his comments during a closed-door conference with insurance industry lawyers and lobbyists last month: he criticized Proposition 103’s protections and said he was ready to “get creative, just like all of you have been for so many years.”

Allegations that Lara used his office to reward donors raise serious legal questions that he will have to answer completely and quickly. Pandering to a bunch of industry executives at a luncheon isn’t unlawful but it is troubling.

Either way, Commissioner Lara knows the punishment for protecting insurance companies at the expense of consumers: exile from public life.

Some pundits argue that Lara’s conduct is the fault of the voters for politicizing the office. But going back to the system in which the insurance commissioner is appointed would only please the powerful insurance lobby, and it would disenfranchise Californians of one of their most successful powers: the ability to elect the person who protects their checkbooks.

Harvey Rosenfield is the author of Proposition 103 and founder of Consumer Watchdog, harvey@consumerwatchdog.org.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.


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21 Workers Test Positive for Coronavirus at Rock n Roll Ralphs

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Workers protest outside Ralphs in Hollywood where 21 have tested positive for coronavirus

HOLLYWOOD (KTLA) — Workers rallied Friday outside a Ralphs store in Hollywood where 21 people have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The group called on the store to take more aggressive action when staff test positive for the virus, and to ramp up efforts to protect the grocery store employees, who are considered essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

They said they speak for thousands of workers who are afraid they aren’t getting enough protection as the virus continues to spread countywide, infecting more than 24,000 as of Friday.

The Ralphs at 7257 W. Sunset Blvd. has had an outbreak involving several workers who tested positive for the virus, according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, which lists businesses and […]

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‘Stay Put, Order In’ and Dine With Friends on Zoom, Says Mayor

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — WeHo is home to some of the best restaurants in the world and our community members are used to gathering around restaurant tables and enjoying meals together. Now, there’s an opportunity to, instead, gather around kitchen tables at home and enjoy a meal (or many!) while supporting our local restaurants.

“One of the worst things about the Safer At Home directive is being disconnected from friends, neighbors, and the city around us,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico. “Don’t be alone if you don’t have to be – take advantage of the technology out there and invite a friend to Zoom in for Ziti or share some Farfalle over FaceTime.”

Mealtime is a wonderful opportunity to connect with friends, family, and loved ones using virtual teleconferencing technology, while partaking in your favorite delivered or takeout food.

City Encourages Residents to Support Local Restaurants During Safer At Home Orders

Many West Hollywood restaurants remain open and are offering takeout, curbside, and delivery meals, which are sensitive to social distancing during the emergency. The City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to offer a directory of “Stay Put, Order In” eateries in West Hollywood, which is accessible by visitingwww.weho.org/coronavirus (click the “Stay Put, Order In” link!) or www.wehochamber.com/dinein. This list is updated daily.

“We need to start hanging out together, and talking, and seeing each other again. So, why not plan to #WeHoDinnerConnect this week – maybe Saturday at 8 p.m.? Or Sunday at 7 p.m.? Or even just 15 minutes of screen-to-screen gossip,” said Mayor D’Amico. “And you don’t have to cook a thing… local restaurants have meals and menus tailored to take-away choices and they’re ready to send food over to your house or make arrangements for you to pick it up.”

If picking up food, remember to wear face coverings, which are required to enter essential businesses.

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Amoeba Music Won’t Reopen Original Sunset Boulevard Store

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Amoeba Music won’t be reopening its original Sunset Boulevard store

HOLLYWOOD (TimeOut) — In a statement posted to its Instagram account on Monday, Amoeba announced that it would not be reopening its nearly two-decade-old flagship on Sunset Boulevard. Instead, the indie record shop will divert all of its resources to opening its new shop on Hollywood Boulevard, which they still hope to have ready in the fall.

“There are so many unknowns and uncertainties for a business like ours right now,” the statement reads. “The only way we can keep Amoeba Hollywood alive in the future is to make this difficult decision now.”

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It is with a very heavy heart that we announce that the massive impact from COVID-19 has forced Amoeba Hollywood to remain closed until we can hopefully move to our new location this fall. We are devastated. We know you are too. We never envisioned not being able to give the store the send-off it deserves, to give you all a chance to say goodbye. But we are facing too many mitigating circumstances. This is not the end of Amoeba! We are moving to a new location at 6200 Hollywood Blvd in the fall and we feel fortunate that this plan was set into motion long before COVID-19. There are so many unknowns and uncertainties for a business like ours right now. The only thing we do know for certain is that we intend to survive. We want to continue to be there for our amazing customers and our incredible staff in our new location long after this pandemic disappears. The only way we can keep Amoeba Hollywood alive in the future is to make this difficult decision now. Thank you ALL so much for your support during this time and over the years. We have the best customers in the world, as evidenced by the tremendous outpouring of support for our GoFundMe. Your generosity is going to help cover health care for our employees at all three stores, and generally help Amoeba continue while we all must remain closed. We miss you all and cannot wait until we can be together again. Please read our full statement online at https://amoeba.com/moveupdate

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Our original story about the store’s GoFundMe campaign appears below.

It’s become a pit stop on music-lover’s tours of Hollywood, it’s hosted concerts from Patti Smith and Paul McCartney, and it’s weathered the Great Recession and the transition from CDs to MP3s to all things streaming. But with Amoeba Music’s future more uncertain now than ever, the massive independent record store is turning to its devotees for nearly half a million dollars to try to stay afloat.

In an essay on GoFundMe, Amoeba cofounders Dave Prinz and Marc Weinstein recount […]

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