Category Archives: Community

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.

Dreaming Big in Hollywood

Hollywood leaders have a history of dreaming BIG and making things happen that might not happen elsewhere. The Hollywood Sign is a perfect example. Hollywood entrepreneurs put it up on the hillside, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rescued it when it was falling down in 1948. It has become the symbol of Southern California.

The Hollywood Bowl is another great case. Who would have thought that a small group of community leaders would have the vision back in 1919 to purchase a hillside and develop an outdoor amphitheater that would seat 18,000 people? Likewise, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has become internationally renowned. It originated as an idea of a president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, E.M. Stuart, who was the general manager of the Broadway Hollywood Department Store. It took six years to make that idea a reality.

People still dream big in Hollywood. Last week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to join a delegation of the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park. This is another big idea – to put a one-mile long cap (cover) over the Hollywood Freeway in the area where the freeway is below grade between Hollywood Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. The cap would create a 38-acre regional park at a cost estimated to approach $1-billion.

Most people would shy away from such an ambitious undertaking, but not the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park (FHCP). Since this nonprofit, grassroots organization was formed in 2008, it has made annual trips to the nation’s capital to brief our representatives. Their president, Laurie Goldman, is passionate about the park. At our meetings in Washington, she explained in detail to numerous congressional representatives, the Department of Housing & Urban Development as well as the Department of Transportation the progress that has been made.

It was obvious that those in the meetings had been briefed before and were extremely interested in and supportive of the proposed park. While other cap parks have been built around the nation, few have been as ambitious as this one or driven by a grassroots coalition. And of course, this one is proposed in Hollywood, which makes it that much more interesting.

Goldman and her delegation explained that Hollywood is one of the lowest resident-to-park-space communities in California (and the nation). Our community has only 0.005 acres of open space per resident as compared to 0.012 acres of open space within the City of Los Angeles. The benefits in improving the quality of life for our residents are obvious. Green space and athletic fields will change the equation for thousands of residents. Air quality will improve substantially, and the two sides of Hollywood will be knit back together after a separation of more than 60 years. And thousands of construction jobs will be created by the project.

FHCP was successful in securing over $2-million in funding for an environmental impact report on the park, which will be released later this year. It is far ahead of all other freeway cap park proposals in Southern California and will likely point the way for them.

Of course, the big question is how you raise a billion dollars. FHCP has turned over every rock looking for possible sources, and is making progress. One possibility they are currently studying is an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD). The EIFD is a new tool that the legislature in Sacramento authorized and the Governor approved that allows communities to create districts that would tap into tax increment financing for specific projects, such as parks (kind of “Community Redevelopment Agency-lite”). If FHCP uses an EIFD, then they would dedicate 25 percent of the revenue generated for affordable housing. The New Promise Zone for Los Angeles may present other opportunities to seek federal funding.

I came back from Washington convinced that the FHCP can indeed make this park a reality. There is a lot that can be achieved when you do not take “no” for an answer. Sociologist Margaret Meade’s famous quote applies here: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We are lucky to still have people who dream big in Hollywood. Our best wishes for continued progress to the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park!

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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

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.

Millennials Setting the Pace for Hollywood’s Future

At our recent Hollywood Economic Development Summit, keynote speaker Victor Coleman of Hudson Pacific Properties, shared some fascinating statistics.

He said that 35 percent of Hollywood’s population (zip codes 90028 and 90038) is made up of Millennials (those in the 18 to 35 years old bracket). That is the largest concentration of Millennials of any community within Los Angeles County. It is greater than West L.A., which contains 29 percent Millennials and Santa Monica, which comes in with 24 percent Millennials.

When you look at a three-mile radius of Hollywood, the percentages remain strong, with 29 percent of the population composed of Millennials, greater than any other comparable zone except Downtown.

Why is this important to the future of Hollywood? Because this is a key reason why creative companies are interested in locating in Hollywood. We have the right demographic they are seeking. We want to attract firms that will employ these young people so that they do not need to travel elsewhere to work.

Hollywood is at the forefront of developing a new paradigm in Southern California – a place where people really can live and work in close proximity without the need for a car. We have got to stop pushing development to the periphery of the metropolitan area, requiring people to drive wherever they need to go and in turn clog our freeways and streets.

Over the past couple of years, new development in Hollywood has faced opposition from residents, primarily in the Hollywood Hills, who have objected to the growth in central Hollywood. As is usually the case in Southern California, those concerns are primarily focused on traffic and congestion. People just don’t believe that it is possible to change commuters’ habits.

With the Millennials, we finally have a chance to change that mindset. Studies have shown that they are urban centric. They like to walk, bike and take public transit. They are fascinated with Uber or Lyft and other alternatives to having their own vehicles. And they crave 24/7 walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with a cool, hip factor.

Let me share with you a few statistics that bear this out. One study by Atlantic Cities revealed that up to 86 percent of Millennials said it was important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car. Nearly half of those who owned a car said they would consider giving it up if they could count on public transportation options.

A study by U.S. PIRG showed that Millennials drove on average 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001 – a greater decline in driving than any other age group. During the same time period, Millennials who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent and walking by 37 percent.

These statistics bear out why central Hollywood is so attractive to Millennials. It is a very compact community. You really can walk almost everywhere you need to. There are plenty of entertainment options – and more are coming. As the area fills in with more desirable retail stores, it is easy to see this area becoming one of the most walkable communities within Southern California. We are on the Redline Subway route, the backbone of the Metro transit system. As more lines are added, it will become even easier for residents of Hollywood to get where they want to without a vehicle.

So Hollywood is a prototype of what we need to encourage in Southern California. I would invite the skeptics who believe that this can’t work here to watch what is happening in Hollywood. We must accommodate growth within the Metro area, but we must do it with more forethought. This is the smart way to grow.

Obviously, there are other steps that can also be taken to improve traffic circulation – such as seeing that mitigation funds from new projects are invested wisely in street improvements and taking advantage of programs such as the Mayor’s Great Streets initiative. However, our new millennial generation presents a unique opportunity for Hollywood.

As a business community, we need to foster and welcome these young professionals to Hollywood. The Chamber has already created our Hollywood Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs program (HYPE). It is amazing to see the energy within this group.

I am sure that there is a lot more that we can do. We should all be having conversations with these new Hollywood residents and ask what their needs are and what would make Hollywood a better neighborhood for them. I suspect making it cleaner and safer would be at the top of their list. We have a lot of work to do, but having this key demographic in our community gives us an amazing opportunity to continue the revitalization of Hollywood.

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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.