Category Archives: Business

Does the Middle Class Have a Future in Los Angeles?

Recently I read Richard Florida’s book, The New Urban Crisis. Among the critical issues he identifies is the decline of the middle class in our urban centers. What his research found was that the middle class is the smallest in the most economically vibrant places, in particular, what he defines as “superstar cities” and tech hubs. Los Angeles was identified as one of these urban areas where the middle class is the smallest.

At a meeting we held last week with Mayor Eric Garcetti, he voiced what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging issue facing Los Angeles – will our children be able to stay here and enjoy the prosperous community that has been built over the last generation. “We need a middle class and not just a service class,” said the Mayor, emphasizing that it is essential that the middle class not be squeezed out. The Mayor was right in highlighting this challenge.

If we cannot provide an opportunity for our children to remain here, what kind of a legacy have we provided? It does not matter if Los Angeles is able to provide middle-class jobs, if the cost of living is such that they cannot get ahead. I think each of us know of young people who have left the state as it has become increasingly unaffordable. I have two nieces, third-generation Angelenos, who moved to Colorado, in order to be able to purchase a home. I’m sure you can name a few.

Let me share a few statistics that I have seen over the last few months. The New York Times reported earlier this month that housing prices in L.A., San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego have jumped as much as 75 percent over the past five years, making California the toughest market for first time home buyers. The median cost of a home in California is now over $500,000, twice the national average. California’s homeownership rate of 54 percent ranks last in the nation.

A recent article by Elijah Chiland noted that the real estate website Redfin reports that just 6.6 percent of homes listed in the greater L.A. region are considered affordable to residents making the median income. The problem is that while there have been significant increases in home values, wages in Los Angeles have risen less than half a percent since 2012.

On top of this, there is the issue of taxation. When you consider the compounding effect of the taxes levied at the state, county and local levels, it adds up to a huge disincentive for the middle class and young people to remain here. In an article published last month, Chris Nichols of Politifact, responding to the question of whether California taxes were really among the highest in the nation, provided the following facts: On a per capita basis, Californians pay $1,991 annually in state income taxes, which ranks fourth highest in the country. California has the highest-in-the nation sales tax rate of 7.25 per cent (and that is before local levies recently passed for such worthy causes as mass transit and homeless services). When the recently-approved 12-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax goes into effect on November 1, 2017, it will make the California gas tax second highest in the nation.

Now, I am not arguing against the need for these new taxes and fees to address serious state and local problems. What I am saying is that the compounding effect of these taxes threatens our middle class.

Even property taxes, which we tout as low because of Proposition 13, create a heavy burden for those just starting out. Since median housing prices are twice the national average, the property taxes are still a hurdle, especially when compounded by additional parcel taxes and fees charged to property owners in a specific area to pay for special needs and public improvements.

The state legislature has introduced 130 housing measures this year to address the affordable housing issue. The City is considering linkage fees to fund affordable housing. The problem with many of these proposals is that it is impossible for government to solve the housing crisis with new fees to develop affordable housing. The amount of housing they could fund is only a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.

Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics recently said that California would need to add between 800,000 and one-million additional residential units to move the state to national norms for housing stock and vacancy rates. In L.A., we would need a total of 180,000 to 200,000 residential units.

The only way to meet these type of numbers is to stimulate the private sector, which is now weighed down with government regulations that make it impossible for the free market to work the way it is supposed to. Our public officials are going to have to make some tough decisions if they really want to address the housing crisis.

Here are a few suggestions. At the State level, our representatives are going to finally need to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to stop egregious abuses of this law that can kill or delay needed projects for years. They need to approve language that treats infill development in urban areas differently than pristine open space. State and city officials need to incentivize developers to build low and moderate income housing units. There are ways to do this, such as increasing density for targeted units or reducing parking requirements, which would bring down costs on a per unit basis. And the courts need to be directed to accelerate the review of legal challenges to housing projects.

It took a long time for this housing crisis to develop, and it may take a long time to work through a solution, but we cannot afford to delay. Our legislators need to start acting now to solve this problem. If they don’t, the California dream may be a thing of the past for our vanishing middle class.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

 

Hotel Complex is a Dream for Hollywood Jobs

When one thinks about the visionaries who made Hollywood what it is today, there are a lot of candidates to consider: Sid Grauman who dreamed up the picture palaces and movie premieres, C.E. Toberman, who built most of the grand buildings on Hollywood Blvd. and made the Hollywood Bowl a reality, the Chandler family and their associates who put the huge Hollywood Sign on Mt. Lee, Johnny Grant, who built the Hollywood Walk of Fame into an international icon – the list could go on and on.

And in fact, the list continues to grow. Last week, the long-awaited Dream Hotel opened its doors – the culmination of a 10-year dream by Richard Heyman and Grant King of the Relevant Group. These two gentlemen looked at a very nondescript stretch of Selma Avenue just west of Cahuenga and imagined something no one else saw – a thriving entertainment complex.

Their original vision was to convert an old industrial building into a hotel and to activate the adjacent derelict alley with restaurants. Over the years, that vision grew. They now envision up to four hotels within a two-block area. This is a case study in “place-making” if ever there was one. The two partners envision a vibrant neighborhood something akin to the Meat Packing District in New York. Looking at what they have already created, we can only imagine what another three hotels might do for that neighborhood.

What is especially noteworthy is that the new hotel and the four adjacent restaurants have created 700 jobs. That is significant in a stretch where the previous structure on the site probably provided less than 10 jobs. Not only do the venues provide employment, but they will also offer new entertainment opportunities for Hollywood residents, and will act as a magnet, drawing guests from throughout Los Angeles. It will help to perpetuate Hollywood’s image as the entertainment center of Los Angeles.

If you talk with Grant and Richard, they will tell you of the many challenges they faced to make their dream a reality. When they couldn’t get financing locally for the project, Grant went to China where he successfully raised the needed funding.

They simply did not take “no” for an answer. They wanted to bring the “A-game” to Hollywood, and they did. Besides Dream Hotels, they brought in the Tao Group, one of the most successful restaurant groups in the nation. These unique restaurants in the Dream Hotel complex are already receiving rave reviews, so be sure to check out Tao, The Highlight Room, Beauty & Essex, and Luchini.

When you visit the Dream, you will agree that it will be catalytic not only for that stretch of Selma Avenue, but for Hollywood in general. This type of project perpetuates the excitement about the revitalization of Hollywood. I often speak with developers who remark that they can feel the energy here and that they want to be part of it. They have heard through word of mouth that things are happening in Hollywood. When they come to visit, they experience it.

Hollywood did not become the name synonymous with the film industry by thinking small. It has always been associated with “dreamers” – but dreamers who made things happen.

As the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, we congratulate Richard and Grant on their success and express our appreciation for their faith in Hollywood. We can hardly wait to see their next project.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

 

Musings About a Target

By now, most people have heard the disappointing news that Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. has once again sided with a very small group of plaintiffs to prevent Hollywood’s new Target from being completed. I thought it might be appropriate to offer of few of my own observations on this sad state of affairs.

Let me first offer a little background. It has now been nine years since Target first filed to build a store in Hollywood. When it was initially approved by the City and threatened with a lawsuit, Target decided to do a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to strengthen its case against lawsuits. However, that later proved to be of little value.

At issue was a quirk in the Station Neighborhood Area Plan (SNAP) that governs development in that area. The SNAP ordinance allows projects that are strictly retail to only be 35 feet in height, but allows mixed-use projects to be up to 75 feet. The City Council and Planning Commission felt that the Target would be a benefit to the neighborhood and granted a variance to allow the project to be built at the 75-foot height.

The La Mirada Neighborhood Association, which is reputed to have only two or three members, sued. Judge Fruin ruled that the EIR was fine, but that the city erred in granting a variance and should have changed the zoning.

The City, in order to comply with the judge’s order, created a new Subarea F zoning category for big box retail centers. Once again, the La Mirada Neighborhood Association sued, saying that the City should have performed a new EIR to justify the new zoning designation. And once again, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs. It serves no purpose to rebut the judge’s rationale for his decision, but I would like to share my thoughts on what a loss it means for Hollywood.

Between 250 and 300 permanent jobs have been lost to the community now for several years because of these lawsuits. These are jobs that could have been filled by many of the low-income residents in the neighborhood close to the Target site. In addition, the Target would have provided expanded shopping opportunities for our entire Hollywood community, and would have been within walking distance for many low-income neighborhoods. It is only two blocks from the Hollywood/Western subway station and so is easily reachable from all areas of Hollywood. We haven’t had a department store since Sears closed its Hollywood store in 2008, so this would have been a wonderful addition to the community.

I get more questions about the status of the Target from both residents and businesses than any other subject. There is overwhelming support in Hollywood for this store. So the question is “What are the specific reasons why these few people are opposing the Target so vehemently?”

Robert Silverstein, the plaintiff’s attorney, usually responds that the plaintiffs aren’t against a Target – they just want them to follow the city’s rules. My objection to that answer is that rules set by a city are not cast in stone. Historically, cities have always had broad discretionary powers to determine land use within their bounds. The SNAP ordinance is not the U.S. Constitution. The City should have the right to make changes as circumstances warrant.

We live in an urban area. What value is achieved by limiting a retail center to one story? When we have attended past hearings on the Target, the main justification of the opponents for their position is that they want housing built in the neighborhood, not just retail centers. If developers wants added height, they have to provide housing as well, they say. They also have voiced concerns over views being blocked or a building built out-of-scale with the neighborhood.

I could understand these arguments eight years ago, but circumstances have changed dramatically since that time and the rationale for those positions no longer applies. In the interim, three projects have been announced and are in the entitlement phase across the street from the Target that will provide 1,293 housing units. These projects will all be as high, or higher, than the Target. So what purpose is to be achieved by forcing the Target to be torn down and rebuilt at one story? My answer would be “Absolutely none.”

The opponents can bask in their latest court victory, but in my view, they should be asking themselves if they are really serving the greater good for Hollywood? If Target pulls out because they are tired of fighting this small group of naysayers, have the interests of Hollywood really been served? Does the loss of these needed jobs and shopping opportunities mean anything to the opponents?

Being with the Chamber of Commerce, I am an eternal optimist. We have been through some difficult times in Hollywood, and despite setbacks, the community’s revitalization continues to move forward. I remain hopeful that a solution can be found so that the Target can be completed. Meanwhile, I would urge everyone who is supportive of having the Target finished, to not be silent. Let the La Mirada Neighborhood Association know how you feel.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

A Few Observations about Measure S

 

With only two weeks to go until the election, there has been a lot of “ink” written on the topic of Measure S. You’ve heard the statistics about how this measure is going to cost our economy $1.9-billion and 12,000 jobs for each year it is in place. You’ve heard about its devastating impact on affordable housing, especially in light of the passage of Measure HHH to build permanent supportive housing that Measure S would make difficult to build. And you have heard the claims of the proponents that only five percent of the proposed construction within the City will be impacted.

With the debate drawing to a close, I would like to share a few of my final observations. Here are my thoughts:

  1. The idea for this initiative sprang from a small group of activists in Hollywood, who were not able to stop development here, and thought they would have a better chance by enacting a citywide moratorium. They have cloaked their real intent under the cover of popular terms such as “updating community plans” and “ending spot zoning”. They continue to minimize the impact of this measure (far below what real studies have shown). In reality, their goal is not to update community plans, but to stop all significant development that adds traffic near their homes.
  2. Almost everyone agrees that the City of Los Angeles project approval process leaves much to be desired and needs reform. The one positive result of the initiative is that it spurred the City Council to vote on February 8th to update L.A.’s 35 community plans every six years, which is realistically about as fast as the City can move in updating all of its plans. That vote has triggered creation of a new ordinance that will mandate these updates. If the ballot measure sponsors really cared about updating the plans, they would declare “victory” at this point and move on. The fact that they haven’t done so, tells you that they really have another agenda.
  3. The proponents of Measure S are disingenuous when they say that the moratorium will only last for two years. They know that it is impossible for the City to update all of its plans within that timeframe. They also know that there will be lawsuits challenging the approval of new updated community plans, which will prevent their implementation. It has now been five years since the Hollywood Community Plan Update was approved and then blocked by a lawsuit. We are still waiting for it to be reconsidered. This is a good example of what is in store if this measure passes. Voters need to understand that the moratorium likely will be in effect for years.
  4. In an ideal world, no exceptions would be granted to zoning rules. However, in the real world, that is not possible for various reasons. There are cases where spot zoning is needed, and where it demonstrably is a good thing. Probably the best example in Hollywood is our beautiful new Emerson College campus on Sunset Blvd., which has won numerous design awards. Under the previous zoning, about all that could have been built on the site was a hamburger stand. I don’t think anyone would argue that a hamburger stand was a better usage for that site. Until such time as community plans are updated to reflect today’s circumstances, there is a need to allow legislative bodies to exercise judgment to consider the issues in addressing development at specific locations. And, even after a plan is adopted, there is a need for flexibility. Changing circumstances, new opportunities that may never have been contemplated, or mistakes in classification require some flexibility in allowing exceptions. Granting exceptions to the rules should be infrequent, but blanket prohibitions of “spot zoning” without considering real life situations are not in the public’s best interests.
  5. Measure S is really a case of “the haves” versus “the have nots”. If you already own a home and don’t care about the larger community’s interests, then you may be inclined to vote for Measure S, but if you truly care about those who are just getting started in L.A. or who are forced to commute in from outlying regions, then this measure is not for you. Last fall I spoke with Councilmember Nury Martinez, who represents the 6th District, stretching from Van Nuys to Panorama City. She said it is a challenge to bring development into her district and that the Measure S moratorium would harm her efforts to do so. Her concerns are echoed in many communities across this great city. Other than Hollywood, Koreatown and Downtown L.A., most areas of L.A. are not seeing a great deal of new development. Many communities want and need development. As I have said before, developers are not the enemy. They are the ones who help to revitalize older neighborhoods. Our opponents forget how bad Hollywood was 20 years ago. It has been primarily through new development that we have been able to turn this historic film capital around. Where you see no new development is where you most often see communities in a state of decline. Measure S will perpetuate that problem and make it more difficult to revitalize communities.
  6. Measure S is about the future of Los Angeles. I remain convinced that one of the main goals of the proponents of this measure is to stop the addition of density near mass transit centers. The Palladium Residences project that seems to have been the genesis of Measure S (at least for the largest contributor to their campaign), is only one block from a subway station. Opponents of that project do not want density near transit centers, and yet they have suggested no alternative. The horizontal city model with connecting freeways may have worked when we had three million residents in this county, but it does not work when we have 10 million residents. In city after city, we have successful models on how development has been focused along mass transit lines in order to avoid increasing congestion elsewhere. That has also been the plan for Los Angeles. With the passage of Measure M last November, we have an opportunity to truly accommodate growth and new residents in a logical fashion. To not allow density where it makes the most sense will create future chaos for this region. It will result in a lot of housing and businesses moving outside Los Angeles, and it will force many new residents into peripheral areas, only worsening commute times. We cannot go back to the 1950s.

I add my voice to those who say that Measure S is the wrong remedy for Los Angeles. Now that the City Council has committed to regularly updating community plans, our energy would be much better spent on seeing that we get visionary, well-thought out plans adopted for each area of our city. Let’s work to see that good developments are added along future and existing mass transit lines, and that they contribute to making this a more livable city. That way, we will all be winners.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

5901 Sunset – A Project that Hollywood Needs

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles City Council gave final approval to the 5901 Sunset Blvd. project, proposed by Hudson Pacific Properties. This is a marvelous project for Hollywood and Los Angeles.

The architecturally stunning building tiers back from the residential areas to the north so that the highest portion of the building is along Sunset Blvd. This approximately 300,000-sq.ft., 15-story office building would replace a parking lot that under the 1988 community plan was zoned for commercial uses like a hamburger stand, which no longer represents the development patterns in the area.

The proposed building is just west of the new offices of Netflix and east of Kilroy’s Columbia Square project. Similar in size to the Netflix building, it could bring as many as 1,000 jobs to Hollywood. With thousands of new residents moving here, it makes sense to locate jobs in close proximity to residential areas, so that we can truly encourage a live-work community. It would be one more step in Hollywood’s comeback as the home of the entertainment industry.

The developers, Hudson Pacific Properties, got their start here in Hollywood, and they are committed to this community. They first made their appearance more than a decade ago, when they purchased the Sunset-Gower Studios and saved this historic property as a working studio. Later they purchased the old Tribune lot, now known as Sunset-Bronson Studios. They have sunk millions of dollars into the upgrade of these properties.

They care about Hollywood and they are here to stay. Chris Barton of Hudson Pacific tells me that they want to make this a bellwether building for technology and the environment, and that they will be pursuing a LEED Gold designation. He expects it to be one of the most technologically-advanced office buildings in the country.

They have also agreed to an unrivaled package of community benefits as part of the project, totaling about $1.8-million. They are the first office developer to agree to contribute $1-million toward affordable housing, which will be built within the 13th Council District. They are contributing $50,000 to Helen Bernstein High School, $50,000 to Citizens of the World Charter School and $50,000 to LeConte Middle School, with another $25,000 going toward the Hollywood Central Park. In addition, they are contributing about $400,000 for other improvements in the Hollywood community.

Los Angeles needs jobs and it needs jobs that pay well. Back in June, the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation forecast that between now and 2020, most of the jobs being created in the county will pay below the median wage. At a time when the majority of the new jobs will be in the lower tier, we have a chance to have a facility built that will bring the type of jobs that are needed – jobs that enable people to afford to live here.

Hudson tells me that they are moving forward with plans to break ground in the first quarter of 2017. This is truly a win-win for our community … and yet, there are those seem to want to find fault with everything and may try to stop it with another lawsuit.

The attorney for one of these opponents wrote in her appeal of the project that it would “introduce inconsistency into the land use planning documents for the Hollywood area, will eliminate the possibility of creating a truly pedestrian-friendly section of Sunset Boulevard, and will contribute to the increasing – and unstudied – densification of Hollywood site-by-site.”

She obviously would like people to forget that the City Planning Department spent eight years studying where best to place density. When the City passed its updated Hollywood Community Plan in 2012, this stretch was rezoned to encourage office development. It makes sense, being only a block from the freeway and close to Metro stations, where the impact on surrounding neighborhoods is limited.

The fact is conditions change. In 1988, the only type of business that would have located on that stretch of Sunset Blvd. was a fast-food outlet. Now that the community has turned around and there is an opportunity to build and plan for the future, it is idiocy to say that we should only build what was envisioned in 1988.

As far as creating a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of pedestrians in the area as the nearby Columbia Square project nears completion. Likewise, this project will do an amazing job of activating the street and bringing pedestrians back to an area where virtually no one walked.

This is a project that is needed and which will improve Hollywood. I wasn’t here in 1988 when the current community plan was adopted, but I was here in 1992 and it was not a pretty picture. To those who are against virtually everything, I would say it is time to stop making excuses to justify your opposition to good projects. If you have valid concerns, let’s hear them. If not, then let good projects that are well-designed and create badly-needed jobs like 5901 Sunset proceed.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollyw

Case Study Reveals Downside of Minimum Wage Hikes

Los Angeles and California embarked on an unprecedented experiment this past year, when both voted to phase in a $15-minimum wage over a period of years. In L.A., the rate will reach $15 in 2020 for businesses with 26 employees or more and in 2021 for smaller businesses. In California, the $15 rate will be achieved in 2021, making it the highest state minimum wage in the nation.

Business concerns were minimized by both the City Council and the State legislature, who believed that adverse impacts would be minimal. There will be a lot of interest over the next few years to see whether businesses were playing “chicken little” in complaining about the anticipated impact to their businesses and if the economy can absorb these increases with minimal disruption.

While it may take a while to measure the impact of the general $15 minimum wage, there is a more immediate gauge that might indicate whether we need to worry. In 2014, a year prior to the wage vote that was applied to all businesses, the City Council approved a dramatic increase in the minimum wage for nonunion hotels with 300 rooms or more – raising the wage from $9 an hour to $15.37 an hour beginning in July 2015. For hotels with between 150 and 299 rooms, the increase was delayed a year to July 1, 2016. It was a jump of 70.7-percent all at once. This unprecedented increase affected only certain hotels and included all tipped and non-tipped employees.

In Hollywood, only the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was impacted by the increase in 2015. So I thought it might be interesting to ask the hotel how it is coping with the minimum wage increase. I spoke with Brett Blass, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Journal Hotels, the hotel’s management company. Let me share with you what I learned.

Blass told me that the minimum wage increase has cost the hotel almost $3-million annually – a significant bite to its bottom line. Unlike some government entities, businesses must operate in the black if they are to survive, and so the hotel was forced to take action to cut costs.

Especially of concern to Blass is that the ordinance did not include hotels with which the Roosevelt competes for customers, eliminating a ‘fair and level playing field’ amongst the hotel competitive landscape. “It is impossible to fairly compete when operating a hotel bar, restaurant or the hotel itself when singled out by government wage mandates such as this,” he emphasized. “A hotel can’t just raise all prices, as pricing is marketplace driven.”

The hotel chose to close one of its three restaurants for lunch, Public Kitchen & Bar, resulting in the loss of 10 jobs. “Restaurant margins are not high to begin with,” Blass pointed out. “By increasing tipped wages so much, we found margins at an all-time low or in the red completely.”

Over time, between 30 and 40 full-time positions were eliminated, about 8- percent of the hotel’s total staff. (This job loss is in line with the experience of hotels in proximity to Los Angeles International Airport that were impacted by a similar City-imposed increase a few years before.) In addition, several planned new jobs were put on hold.

Besides this, numerous employees had their hours more closely scrutinized or cut – especially tipped workers in the restaurants. When the increase is applied to tipped workers, the overtime pay becomes astronomical for a business to pay. Overtime is calculated not just on the $15.37 an hour wage, but also on the tipped wages. With the new minimum wage and tips, waiters are earning between $60 and $70 an hour at the Roosevelt, according to Blass. Add in overtime at time-and-a half, and you get the picture. A business cannot afford to have an employee work more than eight hours and so time is reduced to ensure that an employee does not exceed that amount.

The minimum wage hike caused “bleed-up” to happen as well, according to Blass. The hotel had to raise their managers’ pay to keep them above the minimum wage employees.

“We had planned greater annual raises for many of the non-tipped work force,” reflected Blass, “but had to stick to the minimum wage increase only because of the massive and immediate increase to the tipped wage. About 35-percent of the total hotel staff are tipped, so those folks taking home tips every day got the biggest minimum wage lift.”

He also noted that the hotel just completed $22-million in guest room renovations, which would probably have been considered differently had the annual wage increase been known at the time of construction planning.

So, there you have it – a case study showing the actual impact of a minimum wage hike. Now, I’m sure the hotel employees who received increases were very happy, but I wonder what happened to the 8-percent who lost their jobs? Perhaps they found employment at other hotels covered by the wage hike, but if the cutbacks experienced at the Roosevelt are an indication, I doubt it.

I realize that there is a difference between a one-time wage-jump of 70.7-percent versus a phased-in increase, but there is still a lot of good information we can glean from this case study. There are important questions that experts should analyze, such as how many new jobs will not be created by businesses coping with their increased overhead costs, and how much investment in their businesses will not occur since the money is not there. Such investment would create other jobs within the economy that now might not happen.

I wonder how much prices are going to rise over the next few years as the wage hikes work their way through the economy, and how much this is going to cost all of us. I wonder how many employees are going to lose their jobs and what efficiencies businesses will implement to reduce their overhead.

As we stated at the hearings, no one was arguing that an increase in the minimum wage was not warranted. However, based on the Roosevelt experience, I believe more caution and restraint would have been the wiser course. Now we wait to see how this plays out, and hope for the best.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

A New House Is Coming to Hollywood

Recently I attended a gala press announcement hosted by the Japanese Consulate and Consul General Harry H. Horinouchi. I was particularly interested to learn about a cutting-edge initiative that is going to be very beneficial to Hollywood, and which is bound to become a new attraction for both locals and tourists.

Known as Japan House, the program is a new public diplomacy initiative from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to showcase the best of Japanese arts, culture, innovative technology, food, and more. The Ministry has selected three locations around the world to showcase the initiative – London, Sao Paulo and Los Angeles. Of particular interest to us is that Hollywood & Highland has been selected as the Los Angeles location.

The Los Angeles Japan House will bring the most authentic aspects of Japan to the world and will promote understanding and appreciation of Japan in the hopes of strengthening U.S.-Japanese relations. The concept is still being refined, but you can expect Japan House to open within 2017. You should also know that our own Beth Marlis, Chamber Chair of the Board, is on the advisory board to the Japanese consulate, working to make this a reality.

There are a few things that we already know about Japan House. It will consist of two separate locations at Hollywood & Highland. On the second floor, the facility will take up over 6,000-sq.ft., with a shop, café, multi-media room (and special presentations about Japanese culture), and a seminar room. On the fifth floor, there will be a Japanese restaurant featuring top Japanese chefs and an event space (in over 8,000-sq.ft.) which can accommodate 200 people.

This is exactly the type of attraction that Hollywood needs and can host better than any place else in Southern California. We already know that Hollywood is a magnet for people from the entire region. Enterprises such as the El Capitan Theatre, the Pantages Theatre, the Hollywood Bowl and Amoeba Records have proven that this is the place for entertainment. We are the top tourist destination in Los Angeles County as well – and with the pending opening of Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – we expect that our desirability will continue to grow.

I believe that unique attractions such as Japan House have their greatest chance at success here. And they help our “brand” as well. For Hollywood to succeed, we must be able to continue to add new attractions that will draw people. We cannot sit back while other areas of Southern California open popular new venues.

Tourism, along with Entertainment and Health Care, are our three major employment sectors in this community. Thousands of jobs rest on our ability to continue to improve the Hollywood brand. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one way that we constantly reinforce the brand, but we cannot rely just on the tried-and-true attractions.

We welcome Japan House to Hollywood and look forward to having their involvement in this community. As we learn more details about their plans, I am sure that the level of excitement will grow even more!

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

Closure of Cashmere Sends Proper Message

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles City Council took action affirming the Department of City Planning’s decision to revoke a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the Cashmere nightclub in Hollywood for multiple land use violations. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce applauds the action by the Council and the efforts of Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

Let me explain why the Chamber supports this action.

When an applicant seeks a CUP to open a club, the City establishes rules under which that club must operate. Those rules are set to protect the public – those who would visit the club as well as nearby residents and businesses. The types of rules that are set may include hours of operation, age restrictions, alcohol and food sales, capacity, and security requirements, among other things.

Over the years, there has been lax enforcement of CUPs. The Hollywood Chamber has been concerned for years about this and has urged proper enforcement. We were encouraged when the Planning Department set up its Conditional Compliance Unit a couple of years ago. We believed it was a step in the right direction. But progress has seemed to be painstakingly slow.

In the particular case of Cashmere, it had been the focus of numerous investigations by the LAPD over an extended period of time. Last August, a 20-year old male DJ died while employed at the nightclub. In another incident in 2014, investigators say a female college student was sexually assaulted at the club. Such incidents and investigations should have sent a message to the operator that steps needed to be taken to address the issues.

However, adequate measures were not taken. If an operator does not think there will be adequate enforcement, it can encourage some to flaunt the rules, which may have been the case here. The fact that the City has stepped in and taken the serious step to revoke the CUP sends a very strong message to those who don’t want to follow the rules. Without a CUP, the business is unable to continue operating.

Hollywood’s nightclubs are an essential component of our revitalization program. In the 1990s when things looked bleak as far as redevelopment, the clubs brought hope to the community. Early pioneers such as The Garden of Eden, Beauty Bar, Sunset Room and Deep helped to bring patrons to Hollywood. The clubs liked the edginess of Hollywood. Their success brought additional venues and Hollywood established a reputation as a nighttime hotspot.

A lot has transpired since those days as we have seen the revitalization of Hollywood take hold. Today, we see new retail, mixed-use residential projects, office space and hotels under construction.

While the clubs are no longer the backbone of the revitalization effort, they are still important. We have some great venues, which help us to provide nighttime entertainment. Most operators are outstanding, doing their best to adhere to their CUPs.

When the City clamps down on those who continually break the rules, it helps to establish the parameters for operating in Hollywood and it supports those clubs that do follow the rules.

Councilmember O’Farrell and the City took the right action in the case of Cashmere. While we hate to see any business close, we believe the message that was sent is good for Hollywood, good for our residents and visitors, and good for business.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

Why it is thumbs down on Neighborhood Initiative

By now, you may have heard of a new anti-growth effort, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, being promoted by a group called the Coalition to Preserve L.A. The initiative would impose harsh restrictions on projects that require major changes to city planning rules – including putting a moratorium of up to 24 months on development projects that cannot be built without votes from elected officials to increase density. It would make it difficult to change the L.A. General Plan for individual real estate projects. It would place City employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major projects. It would require the City Planning Commission to update the City’s community plans to be consistent with the City’s General Plan – even though these initiative supporters often fight any effort to update the community plans.

Let me say the obvious – that the goal of the initiative proponents is to stop any significant development within the City of Los Angeles. They claim that their initiative “will preserve the character of neighborhoods throughout the City of Los Angeles and improve the overall quality of life for city residents.” In actuality, it will worsen the quality of life for city residents – as there will be fewer jobs, higher housing prices, and more congestion.

In order to justify radical initiatives like this one, the proponents always paint City officials as inept and developers as villains out to make a buck and destroy the character of neighborhoods. They never want to discuss the reasons behind the City’s actions or where growth should occur. They have no solutions. They merely want to turn the clock back fifty years to the Los Angeles of another time.

The problem is that you cannot go back. Los Angeles is the least affordable place to lease or buy a home in the nation and has had the biggest housing price increase over the past 15 years in the U.S., primarily because it is so difficult to build anything here. One of the reasons why we have so much gridlock is because of people who over the years have refused to consider smart growth solutions that have been implemented in cities around the globe.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area has reached its physical limits. We cannot keep growing outward and forcing people to commute vast distances. We should not allow the interior areas of the City to deteriorate in order to “preserve” neighborhoods. We should not prevent affordable housing from being built in our city.

Smart growth advocates and planners will tell you that the successful planning model is to direct growth to occur along transit corridors. As our mass transit system is built-out, it will eventually enable people to travel where they need to go without using their vehicles. We are then able to preserve those single-family neighborhoods that are so valued by the initiative proponents. (This used to be referred to as the two-percent solution – to direct development onto two-percent of the land in order to preserve 98 percent of the land.)

Opponents argue that the mass transit system is not yet built-out and that we should wait until that occurs before we build around mass transit stations. However, if we wait, traffic will continue to worsen for everyone because housing and jobs will be built in places that only add to congestion.

They also argue that it is impossible to build new projects without creating more traffic. They are correct that there will be some additional traffic. However, by matters of degrees, the increase in traffic will be substantially less due to the nearby transit, and because jobs will also locate close to these stations. There are currently five mass transit lines under construction by Metro in greater Los Angeles – that is more than any place else in the nation. As these lines come into operation, it will be easier to see the wisdom of guiding development to transit corridors.

Hollywood is the poster child for those opposing development. They point to the 70 or so projects in the pipeline and argue that development will destroy the quality of life and the character of Hollywood. In my view, exactly the opposite is occurring. We are creating a great example of how urban development should happen – with walkable neighborhoods and jobs, shopping, and entertainment close by. Opponents seem to forget how bad things were in Hollywood 20 years ago. What has turned central Hollywood around is the new development. And this development is occurring in the center of Hollywood, close to mass transit. Parking lots are being replaced by exciting new development that make it an attractive neighborhood.

New development has made it possible to preserve historic structures. About 15 years ago, I was visited by representatives of the Los Angeles Conservancy who were concerned about the possible loss of two very historic properties – Columbia Square and the Palladium. Today, because of new development, both of those historic venues are saved and will again be show places.

I was recently told the story of a local resident whose children have moved to the East Coast with no intention of moving back to L.A. Why? Because they are tired of living in an urban area where it is impossible to get by unless you use a car and are stuck in traffic gridlock. Passage of this initiative will only perpetuate that ineffective and outdated model.

So I ask the proponents of this initiative to tell us exactly where they think development should occur. They have no answer to that question. And until they can answer it, then this initiative should be given no credence. If you like the current gridlock in L.A., it will never change with their plan. Their solution to go backwards is no solution at all. They would merely be preserving a model that we already know no longer works.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

City Sets Priority to Create Jobs

Last week, the first meeting was held of the L.A. City Council’s new Ad Hoc On Comprehensive Job Creation Plan Committee. I attended and offered our Chamber’s strong support for their efforts. It is extremely critical to the future of our City that the City Council act to jumpstart the creation of jobs.

Committee Chair Paul Krekorian said “This is going to be a committee that takes action and makes recommendations to the Council. This is the biggest priority we have as a city. It will impact our ability to maintain a high quality of life for our residents.”

Dr. Christine Cooper from the L.A. Economic Development Corporation presented an overview of the opportunities and challenges that we face. She noted that L.A. unemployment has consistently been higher than at the county, state and national levels.

She wasn’t exaggerating. Since 1990, jobs in the U.S. have increased by 29 percent and by 28 percent in California. In Los Angeles, by contrast, the number of payroll jobs has increased only by 2 percent during the same period, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

So the Ad Hoc Committee has a challenging assignment. We hope they will move quickly. Already, they have passed a motion directing various City agencies to report back with recommendations on a comprehensive job creation plan.

I’m sure there will be ample opportunity for input from the public as well. Let me offer a few suggestions. First, the City cannot create a jobs strategy without addressing the biggest drag on jobs creation in the City – the job-killing Los Angeles Gross Receipts tax. This is the highest business tax in the county by a factor of 9.5 times the average of the other 87 Los Angeles County cities.

The City has made small efforts to trim back the tax, but much more is needed. Over the next three years, the tax will be reduced by 5 percent a year. Assuming the City Council approves continuing reductions at that rate, it would take 20 years to do away with that tax – not enough to jumpstart jobs creation.

It is a challenge for the City Council to eliminate this tax, because it generates some 10 percent of City receipts. Facing an ongoing structural deficit, it takes a leap of faith to do away with it altogether and the City Council has been reluctant to do so. But maybe there are other alternatives that could be considered – such as reducing it initially to the countywide average for all cities so that we are not placed at a competitive disadvantage? Perhaps, the City could study alternative taxes that wouldn’t have the same negative impact on jobs creation? If the City wishes to be a competitive player in jobs creation, then it has to be a competitive player when it comes to the cost of doing business – and taxes are a big consideration for many firms.

The City should also look at where jobs are being created and see how they could facilitate that growth. Currently, Hollywood and Playa Vista are the biggest job creation engines within the City. With more than one-million sq.ft. of office construction underway, Hollywood has the potential to create thousands of new jobs. Already, Viacom, Netflix, Neuehouse, SIM Digital and others have announced they are coming to Hollywood. Other projects are in the pipeline and could be expedited if the City put the Hollywood Community Plan on the fast track to being reconsidered and implemented.

There are many other things that could be done, such as structuring an incentive package to encourage hotels to be built in all areas of the city – not just downtown by the Convention Center (which is the practical result of a plan that was presented earlier this year). The City could streamline the process that business owners and start-ups have to go through to get permits to expand or to open a business.

If you have ideas on what the City could do, send them my way and we will pass them on to the City. Better yet, plan to attend the ad hoc committee’s hearings! We will post them on our website as soon as we are aware that they have been scheduled. This may be a unique opportunity to move our city forward. Let’s all work to help the City craft a package that will really make a difference.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.