Category Archives: City of Los Angeles

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

Master Plan Is Of Paramount Importance

Last week, the City held a public hearing on the proposed 25-year Master Plan for Paramount Pictures. This storied studio, which dates back to 1912, is the last remaining major studio located in Hollywood proper. Warner Bros., Columbia, Fox and Disney got their start here, but all moved out many decades ago. As hearings go, this one was cordial. Even those who had issues were on their best behavior. Everyone understands how important Paramount is to our community.

As Chamber President & CEO, I pointed out how critical Paramount is from a jobs standpoint. With 5,000 people employed on the lot on an average day, Paramount is our jobs anchor in South Hollywood. That is important to our economy because there are numerous ancillary jobs nearby that depend on Paramount – whether a restaurant or prop house or catering truck.

These are by and large middle income jobs. And that is important in Los Angeles – which is the most expensive city in the nation on an income to housing costs basis. It costs a lot to live here. With sharp declines in the aerospace and manufacturing sectors since the 1990s, it is vital that we grow our homegrown entertainment industry.

When you consider that there are only about 200 acres in all of Hollywood that are industrially zoned, it means that we must maximize the jobs on the industrial land that we do have. And Paramount occupies 56 acres, plus an adjacent six acres used primarily for parking. That is more than a quarter of our entire industrially-zoned land.

In order for Paramount to survive in the very competitive entertainment sector, it must be able to expand to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. It was pointed out at the hearing that Paramount is the last of the major studios to update its master plan. That provides them with the perspective to see what their competitors are doing.

It also clearly delineates why they need to plan for technologically advanced sound stages with adjacent production offices, new climate control and lighting systems. It explains why they will need high-tech post production facilities, and adequate parking. It demonstrates why upgraded employee amenities are planned. It is all about competition.

Over the next 25 years, under the proposed plan, Paramount will invest $700-million with a $1.1-billion economic output during construction, which will generate 7,300 construction jobs. However, for me the more important figure is the number of permanent jobs that will be accommodated on the lot once the plan is fully implemented – 12,600 jobs with $3.1-billion in annual economic output. Those are jobs that will enable employees to truly have a “living wage”. Those are jobs that many of our children will occupy.

A year ago, the State of California approved AB1839, which vastly increased funding to compete for entertainment jobs, and to bring them back from other states, due to their film tax credit program. In the subsequent year, we have seen just how successful the program has been. We now have a chance to grow this industry once more – and we must, if we are to demonstrate to the State that their investment was worthwhile.

What I heard at the hearing were typical concerns – traffic, the height of some buildings, making parking structures attractive, the preservation of historic resources, signage. These are issues that I’m sure will be addressed by Paramount as it moves forward with its plan. I did not hear any issues that were insurmountable. We encourage the City to approve a reasonable plan for Paramount and for our community. We all have a stake in Paramount’s future.

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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.

Leadership Needed to Resolve a Real Crisis

This past week, the Hollywood Chamber had meetings with two of our L.A. City Councilmembers – first with Curren Price who chairs the City’s Economic Development Committee, and then our board met with newly-elected 4th District Councilmember David Ryu.

In both meetings, the issue which quickly rose to the top was the rapidly escalating number of homeless encampments throughout Hollywood. I can tell you that people are alarmed at what is happening on public sidewalks, along the freeway and even on private property. Your Chamber has been active in lobbying for action, through meetings as well as letters to our public officials.

A recent count by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) found that the number of encampments on Hollywood streets has jumped by 54 percent to 184 since the last count in 2013. Countywide, LAHSA found that there was an 84 percent increase.

Who are these newly homeless in Hollywood? The Hollywood Entertainment District Security Patrols has surveyed many of the newly-arrived homeless and found that most of them are not from the Los Angeles area. A large number are from out of state and drawn to Hollywood. The majority are young.  Even if the City offered them housing, they would decline. They just want to hang out. For further information on this, read a column by Hollywood Property Owners Executive Director Kerry Morrison:http://onlyinhollywood.org/new-faces-contributing-to-increase-in-homelessness-in-hollywood/

Many of them are also on drugs and alcohol and there is an increasing incidence of mental illness and violent behavior. When I was walking to a meeting last week, one of them appealed to me for a contribution so he could do “alcohol research”. At least he was honest!

Hollywood has done a lot to assist our homeless population. There is a consensus here that we need to treat legitimately homeless individuals humanely. Since 2010, the Hollywood 4WRD Coalition has found housing for 440 of those on our streets. The goal has been to find permanent supportive housing for all of our local homeless. That goal has been blown out of the water with the current situation. I have been in Hollywood for 23 years, and have never seen it so bad.

What does the current crisis mean for Hollywood?  It means that residents do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods. It means that employees are afraid to walk to their cars after work. Developers of multi-million dollar office buildings are concerned that businesses won’t want to locate in Hollywood when they see the encampments outside their doors. This is a quality of life issue that impacts everyone.

Do we see these same problems in nearby cities such as West Hollywood, Burbank, Pasadena or Glendale? The answer is “no”. The usual explanation that we receive is that Los Angeles is so large that it is the prime target of lawsuits challenging homeless enforcement, and so the City’s hands are tied.

I recognize that is indeed a problem, but we are looking to our elected officials for leadership, not explanations. This week the Los Angeles City Council is poised to declare a “State of Emergency” and to earmark $100-million for solutions. This is a good first step.

However, beyond that, a plan of action is needed. First, the City needs to differentiate between those who are truly homeless and in need of humane treatment, and those who want to “hang out” and choose a lifestyle of living on the sidewalks and moving from city to city. Separate approaches need to be crafted for both populations. The County and State need to be brought into the dialogue. If legislation is needed in Sacramento to address the challenges imposed by the courts, then now is the time to be speaking to our legislators – when they are beginning to put together their legislative priorities for 2016. The City should be researching what other cities faced with similar issues have done.

The time for inaction is over. We don’t want to accept this increase in people living on our streets as a new normal. We will be watching how our elected officials lead on this issue!

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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.

A Jobs Strategy for L.A.?

With all of the recent attention by the City on raising the minimum wage, very little of the rhetoric was devoted to the real need in Los Angeles … to increase the number of middle-class jobs. People need to have an opportunity to move up the jobs ladder in order to truly improve their quality of life. A minimum wage increase does not accomplish that.

So how is Los Angeles doing on the jobs front? The UCLA Anderson Forecast released their latest report in early June. The report revealed that the L.A. metro area has seen brisk growth of 2.5 percent in each of the past two years, which finally allowed L.A.’s employment to surpass its pre-Great Recession level of more than seven years ago.

However, William Yu, an economist with the Anderson Forecast, pointed out that even with that growth, L.A. only increased its payroll jobs by 2 percent between 1990 and 2015. By contrast, the U.S. increased payroll jobs by 29 percent during that period and California created 28 percent more jobs. And other areas of Los Angeles County also increased their employment at a substantially higher rate than L.A. City. Yu called L.A. an “economic basket case”, lagging far behind the national norm. He noted that the only other major cities in the nation with similar weak job-creation records are Detroit and Cleveland.

The California Center for Jobs & the Economy, in May issued a report entitled “Economic Tale of Two Regions: Los Angeles vs. Bay Area”, where they stated, “Los Angeles presents a trend largely of jobs stagnation under which middle class wage jobs have been steadily replaced by lower wage service jobs.”

So, I would ask the question, “Besides raising the minimum wage, what exactly is the jobs strategy for Los Angeles?”

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors met in June with Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Kelli Bernard, who detailed some of the Mayor’s jobs-related achievements. To be sure, Mayor Garcetti deserves credit for some of the growth of the past two years. He fought hard to get AB1839 adopted, which ramps up film tax credits to bring production jobs back to California and Los Angeles. We expect to see a positive jobs impact from that. He was also successful in luring Yahoo from Santa Monica to Playa Vista. And the Mayor has identified some sectors with job creation potential and set some goals such as creating 20,000 green jobs by mid-2017.

These are all great steps, but they do not answer the question of why there is no overall jobs strategy to put Los Angeles on a long-term road to matching the growth of other major metropolitan regions, the State and nation. If the City really wants to get serious about our poor jobs record, then there needs to be a comprehensive plan.

This week, in what is a step in the right direction, Council President Herb Wesson announced that he is creating an ad hoc committee on a comprehensive jobs plan. I applaud the Council President on taking this action. Let’s hope the committee takes a serious look at exactly why jobs are not being created in this City at the same pace as elsewhere. There is a lot of information for them to review.

Mr. Yu gave his assessment of what is holding Los Angeles back – a less friendly environment for business, low human capital (meaning a poorly educated workforce) and the high cost of living.

In reviewing his findings, I would point out that San Francisco has a much higher cost of living and is still creating jobs. We do indeed need to improve our educational system, but there are other cities with similar challenges that are creating jobs. I believe that the major factor holding L.A. back is its reputation as a less than friendly place in which to operate a business.

There is a feeling in the business community that we are constantly “under siege” in this City. Last year, it was the huge jump in the minimum wage for hotels with over 150 rooms. This year, the City approved an across-the-board minimum wage hike over the next five years to $15 an hour. We had to fight to get concessions for small businesses faced with a 67 percent increase in minimum wages. After our lobbying, the City Council offered a “token” concession of one extra year for only the smallest businesses with under 25 employees. Now the City Council is considering an ordinance to allow street vendors to compete with brick-and-mortar businesses and to require businesses to offer more sick leave. Where does it end?

Perhaps the elephant in the room when it comes to L.A.’s lack of job competitiveness is the onerous Gross Receipts Tax. Los Angeles has the highest business tax by a factor of 9.5 times the average for the other 87 cities in the County. The only way we can compete is when the City does a “carve-out” for certain sectors that the Council wants to attract here, such as they did last year for internet businesses.

Stories are numerous of businesses that have fled Los Angeles to escape from this job-killing tax. Here in Hollywood, we are still hurting from the loss of Legal Zoom, which moved to nearby Glendale with more than 300 middle-class jobs, when the City’s Finance Department decided to raise them to the highest tax rate imposed by the Gross Receipts tax.

There have been numerous calls to do away with this tax, including by Mayor Garcetti. Last year, the City Council did make a small concession by voting to reduce the tax by 5 percent in each of the next three years. To be perfectly honest, from a job-creation standpoint, that was not enough to move the needle one iota.

If the City Council is serious about creating jobs, they need to at least reduce this tax to the countywide average. Imagine what would happen if L.A.’s business tax were not 9.5 times higher than the County average? We might then be able to compete for new jobs. Give businesses some hope and they just might decide to expand here and hire more employees.

That would be the foundation of a jobs creation strategy. L.A. is the second largest city in the nation. We have numerous natural advantages. The business sector knows that we can compete if we have a level playing field. We can provide the middle-class jobs that this economy needs if the City acts decisively. We should not be in the cellar with Detroit and Cleveland. Hopefully, the ad hoc committee will come up with some realistic recommendations that the City Council will adopt.

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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 Approved Wage Hike is Bad News for Small Businesses

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to move forward on drafting a minimum wage ordinance that will raise wages by 67 percent over the next five years.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce participated through the entire process of debate on the issue and said that we could support a hike in the minimum wage – provided steps were taken to protect small businesses and to make the City more competitive in job creation.

Unfortunately, the carve-out approved by the City Council was so woefully small that only the smallest of businesses will receive any help – and only for one additional year.

The City set the threshold for a small business as one with 25 or fewer employees. By comparison, Seattle, in crafting their own minimum wage hike, used the same definition of a small business as the federal guidelines – 500 or fewer employees. And they gave small businesses an extra four years to meet the same requirement as large businesses.

The Los Angeles Times quotes Councilman Gil Cedillo as saying of the City Council action, “This is the greatest shift of wealth in the history of this city.”

At least he admitted what we have known all along. This is not new money flowing into the City. The “wealth being shifted” will be taken from the pockets of businesses. The justification cited by supporters was the City-commissioned Berkeley study that promised minimal impacts on businesses. We will now have the opportunity to find out if the Berkeley study is right when it said, “For retail trade and the local economy as a whole, price increases would be negligible.” Personally, I have my doubts.

Firms will adjust their business model according to how much additional money they will have to put into payroll. Small businesses will spend less on upgrades, equipment and other investments in their operations. They will either reduce the number of employees or cut back their hours. They will be reluctant to add new employees. Businesses operating on the margin will either close or move out of the City.

What the Council did not consider is that businesses cannot operate at a loss. According to the financial research firm Sageworks, net profit margins for restaurants for example averaged about 3 percent in 2013. In many of these restaurants, payroll accounts for 50 to 60 percent of their expenses. How does the City expect these restaurants to cope with a 67 percent increase in the minimum wage?

Job growth in L.A. will suffer. Beacon Economics has projected that the wage increase “will reduce job growth from an expected 1.8 percent per year for the next five years to less than half that and potentially eliminate growth altogether. In other words, expected job growth would go from 30,000 jobs per year to somewhere between 2,000 to 15,000 jobs.” Los Angeles has one of the worst job creation records of any major city in the nation, according to a study released last year by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The City Council seems to have ignored this fact in making their decision.

There has never been an increase in wages of this magnitude over this short period of time in Los Angeles. Even the consultants that did the peer review study for the City advised that they not go beyond the $13.25 per hour wage base recommended by the Mayor, and to evaluate implementation impacts before increasing it further. They said that at the higher rate (of up to $15), the metrics used to assess minimum wage increases are above historic standards. They continued that the uncertainty as to the effects is largest over the longer term, when workers and firms have fully adjusted to the wage and capital-labor and labor-labor substitutions have been made. The reviewers urged the City to provide delayed phase-in that may mitigate against the most serious potential impacts for ‘high sensitivity’ businesses such as small firms and nonprofits.

The City Council ignored that wise counsel and has approved this experiment. While we can certainly voice our concerns one final time when the ordinance comes back to Council for final approval, the decision for all practical purposes has been made.

The State minimum wage will rise another dollar to $10 an hour next January. The new City hike will go into effect six months later, in July of 2016 – starting at $10.50 an hour and rising to $15 an hour in 2020. Thereafter, it will automatically increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index. Your Chamber will be monitoring and reporting impacts of the City action. We would invite all Hollywood businesses to share with us how the minimum wage hike impacts your business and steps that you will take as a result. We’re going to keep tally and share the results with the City Council.

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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.

How the Community Loses When Developments Are Stopped

With all of the attention devoted last week to another case where attorney Robert Silverstein has scored a “victory” with a judgment against a Hollywood project, I thought it was time to focus on what the community is losing by these interminable lawsuits.

There are a lot of things that are lost – including jobs, new shopping areas for the community, projects that would improve neighborhoods and address serious problems. Each new development, with modern lighting and in many cases security, helps to clean up the area. Each project draws people who patronize and make neighborhoods safer.

Those who condemn new developments should recall how bad things were in Hollywood 20 years ago. It has only been through new development that we have been able to turn things around. Developers have invested millions of dollars of their own money in improving our community. This is money that the City certainly did not have to invest, and which our own residents/businesses were not prepared to invest to clean up Hollywood.

Some may have forgotten that the Sunset-Gordon project was originally planned to be L.A.’s first workforce housing development for middle-income residents. Even though Mr. Silverstein lost that lawsuit, the two years of delays because of the lawsuit forced the original developer out of the picture and the workforce housing went down the drain. The delays resulted in the deterioration of the historic building. Had there been no lawsuit in the first place, the façade might have been preserved as originally intended.

Hollywood’s half-built Target is another case in point. Had it not been stopped, it would have opened by now, creating 200 permanent jobs for our community. In addition, it would have provided nearby shopping for many of our local residents. Hollywood has not had a full-service department store since Sears closed in 2008, only a short distance away. This is especially a loss for low-income residents without transportation, many of whom would be within walking distance of the new Target.

In the case of the Millennium Hollywood project, opponents are so preoccupied with the height issue that they forget about the down-on-the-ground benefits that will accrue to Hollywood. Most of two blocks in central Hollywood will be activated by this project. Currently, they are parking lots. In the evening, the area is dark and uninviting and not an area where people feel safe walking. The project would activate the neighborhood and bring life to the area. The original architect of the Capitol Records building has stated that it was never intended to be an isolated structure surrounded by parking lots. Finally, after more than 50 years, it would be complemented by uses that will allow people to enjoy this world-famous building. The developers of this project have a reputation for doing very high-quality developments. Most communities would be thrilled to secure developers of this caliber, knowing the type of projects they build.

The graffiti-covered site where 80 Cool Rooms would have been built.
The graffiti-covered site where 80 Cool Rooms would have been built.

Sometimes, even small projects become the victims of these lawsuits … or the threat of lawsuits. A case in point is the proposal for 80 Cool Rooms, a European-style hotel proposed only one block from a subway station at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and St. Andrews Place. This proposed project would have taken what is currently a small corner lot covered with graffiti, trash and weeds and transformed it into something of which the neighborhood could be proud and also utilize, with its cafe. In this particular case, there was overwhelming support from area residents. However, one person testified that he would sue if the City approved the project, primarily because the City would be granting an exception to the City parking requirements. Never mind that the primary clientele for the hotel would be foreign visitors, many of whom would utilize the subway. There are 3-million international visitors annually who come to Hollywood, according to the convention bureau. This group uses mass transit at home and they use it now when they visit L.A. Chances are very good that this hotel concept would have worked and the parking would have been adequate. If he could, the developer would have added parking, but because of the narrowness of the lot, it was impossible to add parking in a cost-effective way.

Small developers do not have deep pockets and cannot afford to hang on indefinitely. In this particular case, the architect who was proposing the hotel dropped his plans and sold the property. This is what he said in a letter to me:

“It is unfortunate, but this proved to us that at least in Hollywood, the small high density infill/transit-oriented development has no real chance and a small group of individuals with threat of a lawsuit can derail an otherwise lovely and much-needed addition to the urban fabric of the City! My wife and I always thought that our project would be welcomed by the community, and it was, but never imagined that an overwhelming majority can be taken hostage by a few individuals. … We just don’t have the financial resources to deal with lawsuits and frankly cannot live with the stress. Hence our decision to sell.”

Which brings me to the point I would like to make: when we are so rigid in our thinking that we cannot think out of the box, then opportunities are lost. Can opponents truly say that Hollywood is better off because workforce housing was never built at the Sunset-Gordon project, or because the Target is sitting there half-built, or because Capitol Records is surrounded by acres of parking lots or because 80 Cool Rooms will never be built?

Of course, we can all agree that a better job needs to be done addressing traffic issues in Hollywood. And one can understand the need to strike a balance between height and preserving views. However, is it wise to send a message that the community is opposed to all development? We have seen how quickly real estate cycles turn. While there is a lot of interest in Hollywood today, it may not necessarily be the case tomorrow. If the development community opts to go elsewhere, we will all be the worse off. The revitalization of Hollywood remains a work in progress. We cannot complete it without investment in new projects.

No one wants to see Hollywood slip back into what it was like in the 80’s. Perhaps, as a community we need to try and find common ground?

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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.

Wage Mandate Puts Jobs on the Line

For months now, the writers of the UC Berkeley policy briefs on the potential impact of a minimum wage hike in Los Angeles have been saying that a proposed 66 percent increase in the minimum wage will have a negligible impact on jobs.

Data now beginning to trickle out from our neighbors to the north – San Francisco and Oakland – should be raising alarm bells here in Los Angeles. Those cities approved wage mandates of $15 an hour and $12.25 an hour just last fall.

A commentary that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week entitled “The Unappetizing Effect of Minimum-Wage Hikes” reported that in San Francisco and Oakland, restaurants are closing. The Abbot’s Cellar, rated as one of San Francisco’s top 100 restaurants, closed with the owners saying that they had no way to absorb the added costs. A popular vegetarian restaurant, named The Source, closed citing the higher minimum wage. Borderlands Books, a renowned bookstore, was only able to remain open, when customers put on a fundraiser to counter its added costs. In nearby Oakland, 10 restaurants and grocery stores decided to permanently close as a partial consequence of the wage hike.

The commentary reported that Ken Jacobs, one of the authors of the UC Berkeley study, responded to the negative reports by explaining that they were just labor-market “churn”.

I wrote last week that this same Berkeley study has predicted that there will be a net gain of 3,666 jobs by 2017 and 5,262 jobs by 2019 because of the “multiplier” effect of minimum wage workers having more money to spend.

However, Beacon Economics has predicted that the minimum wage increase would have a chilling impact on the creation of jobs by businesses. The Beacon report says that if the plan is put into place “it will reduce job growth in the City from an expected 1.8 percent per year for the next five years to less than half that and potentially eliminate growth altogether. In other words, expected job growth would go from 30,000 jobs per year to somewhere between 2,000 to 15,000 jobs.”

Michael Saltsman, the author of the Wall Street Journal story, concluded by saying “It’s probably too late to save other Oakland and San Francisco businesses. But it’s not too late for cities like New York and Los Angeles to heed the evidence before following their footsteps.”

The final hearing being conducted by the City’s Economic Development Committee on the proposed wage hikes will take place tomorrow evening (Thursday) at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 Pico Avenue, at 6 p.m. We urge our members to show up and express your concerns about the current proposal.

The Hollywood Chamber has called on the City to take steps to protect our small businesses and nonprofit agencies. At a minimum, any increases for these businesses/agencies must be spread over a longer period of time in smaller increments. Let them know that you agree with our recommendation and that the future of your businesses is on the line.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 22 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.