Buss family faces crucial moment with the Lakers

The six brothers and sisters, with a gap of 31 years from eldest to youngest, gathered in the winter near the first anniversary of their father’s death to discuss some problems about the family business. It’s also the city’s treasured sports team — the Lakers.

The team was nose-diving in the standings, losing the interest of fans, and grinding toward its worst season since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

So Jeanie Buss posed an elementary question to her siblings: What was going on with the Lakers?

Her older brother Jim Buss, 54, in charge of the Lakers’ basketball operations, spoke up in the boardroom of the team’s El Segundo training facility and pledged to resign in a few years if the suddenly dark fortunes of the franchise weren’t reversed.

“I was laying myself on the line by saying, if this doesn’t work in three to four years, if we’re not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed,” he told The Times about the meeting. “I don’t know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I’d walk away and you guys figure out who’s going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn’t do the job.

“There’s no question in my mind we will accomplish success. I’m not worried about putting myself on the line.”

It was an emotional meeting, and the siblings — including Johnny, Janie, Joey and Jesse — agreed that Jim deserved more time on the job.

Their father, Jerry Buss, died in February 2013. He left his six children — each with an equal vote — in charge of a family trust, with a 66% ownership stake in the team. But the results of their first season as co-owners weren’t close to championship caliber.

“We’re watching a very unfortunate thing happen to a beloved team right now,” former Lakers coach Phil Jackson told The Times before taking the job last month as president of the New York Knicks. “Everybody is kind of aghast at it and people that are the best customers that any franchise can possibly hope for are dissatisfied, and rightly so.”

Many family businesses struggle after a patriarch dies. But four of the six Buss children remain active in the Lakers’ operations and the family isn’t facing a financial crisis. Their dad left them a franchise valued at more than $1 billion and another great gift — a 25-year, $5-billion broadcast deal with Time Warner Cable. And they seem committed to keeping the Lakers in the family.

“We’re not selling the team. It’s not what we were raised to do,” Jim said. “My dad groomed us for basically 20 years to do what we’re doing.”

But like many extended families, there are disputes and nuances within the relationships of the Buss clan.

One of the most complicated involves Jackson, who coached the Lakers to five championships, and is the fiance of Jeanie Buss, 52. Her father selected her to be the team governor, the franchise’s highest position, and she was placed in charge of the team’s business operations.

She was clearly upset when the Lakers did not rehire Jackson as coach in November 2012, after Jim abruptly fired Coach Mike Brown five games into the season.

The team talked with Jackson about the job and Jeanie wanted him to return to the sidelines. Jeanie later wrote in her book, “Laker Girl,” that she felt betrayed by the decision to hire Mike D’Antoni, pinning it on her brother Jim, even though their father, from his hospital bed, made the final decision. Jim in turn was upset by Jeanie’s book.

However, with Jackson working for the Knicks, some in the Lakers organization believe his departure might help smooth out past family disputes.

Jim insists he and his sister Jeanie get along fine.

“I hate to burst the bubble of what the perception is. We’ve worked together for many, many, many years,” he said. “With the missing piece of my dad, people think we have lost a connection, but that’s not true. It’s just business as usual.”

Still, interviews with NBA officials, agents, players and current and former team employees suggest that the communication between the Lakers’ business and basketball operations needs some improvement. Kobe Bryant raised the issue last month, saying the Lakers’ future starts with Jim and Jeanie “and how that relationship plays out.”

For her part, Jeanie uses the word “empowering” to describe the current situation with Jim, and Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, trying to fix the basketball side of the franchise.

“Jim has assured me that they have a plan in place, that the team will be better next year and we will be back in contention shortly,” Jeanie said. “He’s very confident in that plan and so I have to believe he knows what he’s doing and what he’s trying to accomplish. We have to be patient and give him that opportunity.”

Bill seeks to ease California’s affordability housing crisis

Most Californians can’t afford their rent.

The state’s affordability crisis has worsened since the recession, as soaring home prices and rents outpace job and income growth. Meanwhile, government funds to combat the problem have evaporated.

Local redevelopment agencies once generated roughly $1 billion annually for below-market housing across California, but the roughly 400 agencies closed in 2012 to ease a state budget crisis. In addition, almost $5 billion from state below-market housing bonds, approved by voters last decade, is nearly gone.

A state bill seeks to replace some of those funds and create more than 10,000 low- and moderate-income homes annually through a $75 fee for recording real estate documents. But the proposal has drawn criticism from some in the real estate industry who say it unfairly saddles homeowners and businesses with added costs.

“It disproportionally burdens one segment of the society with something that should be borne by the entire population,” said lobbyist Alexander Creel of the California Assn. of Realtors.

The bill, SB 391, would replace a portion of lost funds, $300 million to $720 million annually, depending how many documents are recorded. Those involved in a sale are exempt from the $75 fee.

State and federal funding for below-market housing in California has plummeted 79% over the last five years, according to a recent study from the California Housing Partnership, which supports the bill. California’s median inflation-adjusted rent, meanwhile, jumped more than 20% to $1,209 from 2000 to ’12, according to census data.

According to another recent study, from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, more than half of California renters can’t reasonably afford their homes.

“We have a real crisis on our hands,” said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), who introduced the California Homes and Jobs Act last year.

With declining government support, planned below-market housing developments have stalled, advocates say.

“No one is sure when they can move forward with their projects,” said Matt Schwartz, president of the California Housing Partnership Corp., a state-created nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving low-income units.

About a year ago, Meta Housing Corp. opened a below-market senior housing development in Long Beach, but the 123-unit second phase has ground to a halt. Groundbreaking on an empty lot is nowhere in sight.

“It really depends when we can cobble together the cash,” said Aaron Wooler of Century Housing, a financier for low-income projects that is working on the development.

Meanwhile, demand for existing units is crushing. The waiting list for the first 200 units reached 1,200 households when the development opened, Wooler said. The waiting list has since dropped to 354 households.

Despite heavy demand, low-income projects don’t pencil out for most developers. Making money building apartments in California — where land and construction costs are high — requires charging high rents. The government subsidies enable developers to offer affordable rents for low- to moderate-income households, advocates say.

“The fact that the redevelopment agencies went away was a major hit,” Wooler said.

Critics of the agencies accused them of wasteful spending, making them politically vulnerable to Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to close their doors. A 2010 Times investigation found that dozens of cities spent hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for below-market housing without building a single such unit.

SB 391 places a $75 fee on recorded real estate documents, such as those required for a refinance, mechanic’s lien and foreclosure, among others. The Senate passed the bill during last year’s session, and it is now in the Assembly.

The bill faces opposition from the politically powerful California Assn. of Realtors, as well as credit unions that say struggling homeowners may shy away from refinancing. Creel, the Realtors group lobbyist, noted that the fee applies to each document recorded, and many transactions require more than one.

In most cases, two or three documents are filed for a refinance, and the borrower pays the fees, said Richard T. Cirelli, a Laguna Beach mortgage broker.

Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics said the bill doesn’t create nearly enough low-income units or tackle the root causes that have depressed new housing of all types and made units that do open extremely expensive. A far more efficient tack, Thornberg said, is to limit the ability of neighbors to challenge projects, which can delay development for years, even decades.

“Until you deal with those … problems, housing is going to be extremely expensive in California,” he said.

But the bill serves as an important tool to combat the affordability crisis, supporters say. It has drawn backing from labor groups, developers, homeless advocates and mental health organizations. Business groups have also lent support, saying housing costs have soared so high that they hurt recruitment.

“It sometimes becomes a real challenge to find employees that are close enough that they want to come to work for you,” said Gary L. Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Saku Koivu’s defense could make difference in Ducks’ bid for the Cup

Saku Koivu saw his retiring teammate, friend and Finnish countryman Teemu Selanne skate around the arena bathed in cheers last week in the Ducks’ final regular-season home game.

Moved, of course, Koivu quickly set aside the moment that’s so close to home.

Because there are still games to win.

Koivu, 39, could be just as close to retirement as Selanne, but the 18-year NHL veteran center hasn’t officially announced his intentions.

“Very private guy, very unselfish — been like that a long time,” Koivu’s linemate Andrew Cogliano said. “And because he is, he’s a leader on this team.”

Koivu’s team-first mentality has functioned like the quiet heartbeat for the Ducks, who for the first time in franchise history earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and take a 2-0 first-round lead over the Dallas Stars to Texas when the series resumes Monday.

The former Montreal Canadiens captain has never won a Stanley Cup.

Twelve times in his career, Koivu has produced 30 or more assists in a season — he had a personal-best 53 in 2006-07 — and his 11 goals this season marked the 15th time he’s reached double figures.

Yet, in this campaign, Koivu’s attention has been focused mostly on defense.

Koivu, Cogliano and Daniel Winnik have been charged by Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau with hounding the opponents’ first lines, and Koivu’s past power-play assignments have been eliminated.

“He was put in a situation he’s never been in his entire career, and he’s responded very well,” Winnik said. “I’ve never heard him complain one bit about his role with the team. He takes pride in shutting down the other team’s top lines.”

Koivu has gotten to the point he realizes his duties could well be the difference between elimination and the Cup.

“It comes down to that defensive part of the game, and when we play strong in the neutral zone, we’re a real tough team to beat,” he said.

That same loyalty to teamwork and fierce inner resolve made Koivu one of Montreal’s most beloved players.

In 2001, he was diagnosed with life-threatening non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, recovered and returned to play in April 2002, generating a greeting from Canadiens fans that remains a must-watch YouTube event.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Koivu’s return to Anaheim this season was only a matter of him telling General Manager Bob Murray he wanted to play.

As the Ducks sprinted to a 20-0-2 start at home, Koivu and his linemates kept the opposing top lines in check — overall, he was plus-three in goal differential while on the ice.

In January, he made a stunning decision.

Rather than join eventual Olympic hockey tournament MVP Selanne, 43, on Team Finland, four-time Olympic medalist Koivu opted to skip the three weeks in Sochi, Russia, in order to rest for the playoffs.

Boudreau said he was in awe of such commitment.

Koivu said the move, along with being a healthy scratch from two late-season back-to-back games, has worked, preserving his energy for the most important games.

Raising the stakes that high for this playoff run clearly reveals Koivu’s interest in grabbing hockey’s brass ring this spring.

“That’s no secret,” he said.

What remains hidden is Koivu’s concrete position on retirement.

“Well, that’s … I haven’t thought that far away,” Koivu said. “You want [the Cup], I’ve worked for it all these years and retiring would probably be easier if [winning it] happened.

“But right now, you try to keep the focus on the game and not think about the future. You start doing that, you lose the focus, that intensity you’re trying to find. You hope that’s going to happen.

“And if it does, then I might have an answer for you.”

Koivu’s most gratifying offensive satisfaction of the campaign was Cogliano producing a career-high 21 goals.

“Very calming influence on the ice, because he knows what to do, plays the game the right way,” Cogliano said. “When you have someone who plays at both ends of the rink — who’s been at a high level for a long time — it makes your life a lot easier.”

Boudreau said Koivu is a favorite choice for ice time in the final minutes to help seal a victory.

“I can put him in there and something good is usually going to happen,” Boudreau said.

Koivu’s situation and contributions are a strong motivator for the Ducks.

“We realize as a team it’s Teemu’s last kick at the can, and maybe Sak’s,” Winnik said. “You see this in other sports, too, how a team rallies around a guy who may be playing his last year with the team. … Hopefully, we do the same for Sak.”

Business Briefing

IMac delays blamed on its popularity

Apple Inc. said the popularity of its new iMacs has led to shipment delays, causing two-week waits for customers ordering a 27-inch version of the desktop computer through the company’s website.

Apple started selling updated versions of its all-in-one iMac computer in October. The Apple fan site AppleInsider.com, citing resellers, said some buyers of the 27-inch models have complained about flickering screens and yellow-tinged displays — problems that Apple may be delaying production to fix. Users also have reported screen malfunctions on the iMac discussion board at Apple’s website.

A spokesman declined to comment on the cause of the shipment delays.


Ford executive praises Obama

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. met with President Obama and endorsed the administration’s handling of the struggling auto industry.

Ford credited Obama for stepping in to help General Motors and Chrysler and prevent auto suppliers from collapsing. Ford said the administration acted “swiftly and forcefully and it worked.”

Bill Ford delivered a list of recommendations to the Commerce Department developed at a Detroit business summit on ways to revitalize the economy.


Maiden flight for Boeing 787 is set

Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner is ready to fly today if Seattle’s skies clear, providing “a really big day” for the plane maker, said James Albaugh, the head of commercial operations.

Final tests during the weekend went well and engineers aren’t “working any issues” before the maiden flight, which is now scheduled a few days ahead of plan, Albaugh said. The second test jet is “in very good shape” and should be in the air Dec. 22, barring any unexpected problems, he said.


Cadbury fighting Kraft takeover

Britain’s Cadbury kicked off a robust defense against Kraft Foods Inc.’s $16.3-billion hostile takeover offer, urging shareholders not to let the U.S. maker of cheese, cookies and macaroni dinners “steal your company with its derisory offer.”

Cadbury also confirmed that it had received rival approaches from Hershey Co. and Italy’s Ferrero International but said they were too preliminary to begin proper talks.

Kraft said that it stood by its offer and that it was reviewing Cadbury’s response.


British Airways crews plan strike

British Airways cabin crews will strike over the Christmas period, their union said, throwing the plans of thousands of holiday travelers into uncertainty at one of the busiest times of the year.

Strikes will begin Dec. 22 and run until Jan. 2, said Len McCluskey, the assistant general secretary for Britain’s Unite union. McCluskey said 92.5% of workers voted in favor of the action.


Greece’s leader to cut spending

Greece’s prime minister announced a barrage of spending cuts, promising to control a ballooning budget deficit and warning that the country risked drowning in debt.

George Papandreou called for unity during a speech to business and union leaders in Athens. He pledged that his Socialist government, elected in October, would take steps he said were decades overdue.