Burbank Barkeep Fined for Smoking A Burbank tavern owner was fined $270 this month for smoking in his establishment, in what may be the first court penalty in the county under a 5-month-old state ban on smoking in bars. Burbank city inspectors brought charges under the ban against Joseph Tavares, who was fined $270 for smoking cigarettes in his business, Crazy Jack’s Country Bar and Grill. A Burbank Municipal Court judge threw out charges that he allowed customers to smoke in his bar, because inspectors failed to provide names of people he allegedly allowed to smoke. Without names, it was unclear whether Tavares or his staff had told them about the ban, which took effect Jan. 1, said James Lindeman, the attorney who represented Tavares. Valley Real Estate Strong in April The San Fernando Valley’s real estate market performed well in the month of April, with the median price of homes making its biggest leap since 1989, according to figures from the Southland Association of Realtors. In April, the median home price in the Valley was $185,000, which is up 13.2 percent compared to the same month of 1997. That’s the fastest growth since September 1989, when the median price rose 14 percent to reach $245,000. Analysts said the price gain was due to strong sales of high-end properties, as well as a shrinking supply of homes for sale. In April, 1,222 homes were sold in the Valley, compared to 953 sales in the same period last year, a rise of 28.2 percent. It was the highest sales volume for any month since May 1989. The number of sales in April was up 8.7 percent compared the preceding month. Natrol Files IPO Dietary supplement maker Natrol Inc. has filed plans with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. The Chatsworth-based maker of vitamins, minerals, herbal and weight-control products said it plans to sell 3.94 million common shares for $12 to $14 a share. The company is expected to start trading under the ticker symbol NTOL on Nasdaq in two or three months, said Elliott Galbert, Natrol’s founder, chairman, chief executive and president. After expenses, Natrol’s proceeds from the sale of shares are expected to be $37.7 million, according to the SEC filing. About $12 million will be used to pay off debt, $6 million will go to redeem preferred stock, $1 million will fund capital expenditures at its manufacturing plant while the rest will go for general business use. The herbal supplements industry doubled between 1993 and 1997, and now accounts for $2 billion in sales. Firm Buys Santa Clarita Hotel Citing a growing demand for hotel rooms in Santa Clarita, San Clemente-based Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc. bought the 130-room Hampton Inn in Newhall for $8.25 million this month. That comes on the heels of the real estate investment trust’s January purchases of the nearby Residence Inn and Fairfield Inn hotels. In a statement, Sunstone said there are significant opportunities to expand the clientele of the Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn hotels, both of which cater to business travelers. Also, since the three hotels are located near the Golden State Freeway and are within five miles of the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park, they are positioned to attract tourists. “This acquisition will give Sunstone increased market penetration in the strong Santa Clarita hotel market,” said Robert Alter, Sunstone’s chairman and chief executive. Funds Voted for Valley Civic Center A city of Los Angeles agency has recommended providing $30 million to finance a civic center to be built in Van Nuys. The Municipal Facilities Committee, which reviews all major city projects, gave its conceptual approval to a $30 million, 135,000-square-foot office and 10,000-square-foot retail complex a reduction from an original proposal for 200,000 square feet of office space. Officials said the scope of the project was reduced so it could be financed through existing seismic bonds rather than bringing about new debt. Some Valley residents criticized the project’s reduction, saying that the city government has underestimated the Valley’s needs. The committee also recommended setting aside $15 million to retrofit 20,000 square feet of offices in the old Van Nuys City Hall, which was damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. The council’s action is subject to final approval from the City Council. Calabasas Firm to Buy Foundation Unit Woodland Hills-based Foundation Health Systems Inc. will sell its money-losing workers’ compensation unit to Calabasas-based National Insurance Group Inc. for about $290 million in cash. The sale, which is expected to close in the third quarter, will allow Foundation to focus on its managed care business. The unit, which operates as Business Insurance Group Inc., lost about $60 million last year on premiums of about $660 million “These operations were clearly not a fit with our health business,” said Malik Hasan, Foundation’s chief executive, in a written statement. “Our capital will be more effectively deployed elsewhere. The purchase will make Superior National the largest private workers’ compensation company in the state, the company said. State Probes Alarcon A state ethics agency has launched a review of Seventh District City Councilman Richard Alarcon’s vote to approve a $1.1 million city loan to a developer in 1995 following his acceptance of a $38,700 loan from the developer’s wife. The Enforcement Division of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating whether Alarcon’s actions were a violation of conflict of interest laws. In addition, the city of Los Angeles Ethics Commission began a review of the councilman’s failure to report the loan on his disclosure reports filed in the past two years. Alarcon said he was embarrassed by what he termed a “mistake.” He said that when he voted to approve the city loan for Valleyheart West L.P. to buy a 36-unit condominium building in Studio City, he didn’t realize the partnership included the Mark Handel, whose wife Sarah Lulloff gave Alarcon the personal loan in 1994.