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Obama raises a quick $1 million — and some L.A. commuter ire

During his trip west, the president also pitches his efforts to create clean-energy jobs.

August 17, 2010|By Jim Tankersley, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Los Angeles — With a quick visit to Los Angeles at rush hour, President Obama raised $1 million Monday for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

He also alienated some Angelenos, at least temporarily, as his motorcade mangled evening traffic en route from the Beverly Hilton to the Hancock Park home of producer John Wells, whose credits include "West Wing," "ER" and "Southland."

Onlookers lined Olympic Boulevard, snapping cellphone photos. One person held a small sign declaring, "We need jobs."

Although it was a friendly crowd, the street closures snared not just vehicles but pedestrians — if calls, e-mails and posts to The Times' website were any guide.

"I was an Obama supporter, but … was stopped by police from crossing Olympic to get home … during my daily dog walk," Amy Christine said on the website. "I've lost all belief in his judgment. Can he really think he's more important than the tens of thousands of people trying to get home to their families?"

The Los Angeles Police Department said that it had received several calls from people about the traffic and that the Secret Service had not shared street-closure information with the department.

Immigration rights supporters demonstrated in Hancock Park dressed in costumes from "The Wizard of Oz." Their signs asked, "Obama, where is the reform?"

Despite the anger and frustration in the streets, the atmosphere inside the fundraiser was relaxed.

The president strode to the microphone in the cool of the setting sun, amid a garden of lemon trees, a manicured lawn and a long aquamarine pool.

"What a spectacular evening," Obama said. "Let's just hang out."

About 200 people attended, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco), J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Taye Diggs and his wife, Tony Award winner Idina Menzel.

The entry fee was $2,500, but co-hosts — including Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, and Barbra Streisand — paid $30,400 a couple. They didn't all attend, however.

Obama told the crowd that he and congressional Democrats, through the economic stimulus measure, had "made the biggest investments in clean energy in our history — building solar panels and wind turbines and advanced batteries."

Reaching out to Republicans — and evoking his message at a stop he made earlier in the day — Obama said, "On energy, we're willing to compromise on a whole bunch of issues, but we've got to have a strategy that starts to limit carbon, because we want those clean-energy jobs here in the United States. Not in China. Not in Germany."

On his way west, the president visited Wisconsin, where he told workers at ZBB Energy Corp. that his administration had helped jump-start "a homegrown clean-energy industry."

The Menomonee Falls company produces cutting-edge batteries and other devices that store energy from the wind and sun.

Obama told the workers that the stimulus package had helped save or create dozens of jobs at their company.

White House officials said ZBB won a $1.3-million loan to help expand production, which will lead to the creation of 80 more jobs.

Also as part of the stimulus, the company secured a nearly $15-million advanced energy manufacturing tax credit to fund a new plant, part of an effort to seed clean-energy factory jobs. Obama has asked Congress to approve another $5 billion in such credits, which he and Democrats hope will revitalize a battered Midwestern manufacturing sector.

After visiting the plant, Obama told a Milwaukee fundraiser that the heart of his economic strategy in the months ahead "will be three powerful words: 'Made in America.' "

But analysts warn that federal efforts to encourage clean-energy manufacturing could shrivel without steps to mandate its use.

The administration so far has failed to convince Congress to pass sweeping energy legislation that would boost clean technologies by requiring renewable sources for electricity and raising the price of fossil fuels through a "carbon price" — in effect a tax on fossil fuels.

Joshua Freed, clean-energy program director at the moderate Democratic think tank Third Way, said energy manufacturing tax credits encouraged U.S. companies to hire workers and compete with foreign energy firms.

"But in the long term," he said, "a price on carbon that funds innovation and helps spark demand for clean energy is critical to multiply the clean-energy jobs that the tax credit is giving birth to."

Two dozen states boast renewable electricity standards, but clean-energy trade groups say they alone can't trigger the factory job growth that Obama envisions.

"The difficulty for the [energy tax credits] program as it applies to renewables is that it hasn't been accompanied by a demand-side policy," said Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which tracks clean-energy investments.

The administration's conservative critics go further, saying the stimulus spending on clean energy is, by definition, fleeting.

At the Los Angeles fundraiser, Obama called for emissions limits – the first time he had mentioned them all day.

jtankersley@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robert Lopez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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