Category Archives: Employment

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.

5901 Sunset – A Project that Hollywood Needs

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

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replace a parking lot that under the 1988 community plan was zoned for commercial uses like a hamburger stand, which no longer represents the development patterns in the area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New House Is Coming to Hollywood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

What California Can Do to Improve Its Business Climate

You may have missed this in the news: For the 11th year in a row, California ranked dead last in the annual survey by Chief Executive Magazine of the “Best and Worst States for Business”. This is a survey that is conducted with CEOs, the people who make the decisions on where jobs locate. The survey revealed that the states with the lowest ratings were scored low because of their high tax rates and regulatory environments.

One of the greatest contributors to California’s image as a bad state for business is the lack of progress in reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the landmark legislation passed 45 years ago. No one claims that CEQA has not been valuable in protecting the environment. The problem is that it often has been manipulated to delay or stop legitimate projects for reasons other than the environment.

Case in point: Last year, the firm that had been commissioned to assemble 175 new rail cars in Palmdale for METRO announced that it was moving out of state because of a threat by a union to sue under CEQA. Only after Mayor Garcetti intervened, were things worked out and the cloud of a lawsuit lifted. Interesting that the deal he brokered with the union had nothing to do with the environment. The word on the street was that the union wanted the manufacturer to agree to a “card check” system to enroll its employees in the union.

You may have read recently that high rents are driving more Californians into poverty and forcing hundreds of thousands of low and middle income workers to move to other states. Did you know that more than half of the nation’s most expensive residential real estate markets are in California? Did you ever wonder whether our own children will be able to afford to live in this state?

The fact is that it is so difficult to build new projects in California that it has artificially raised the cost of living here and exacerbated a shortage of housing opportunities. The many CEQA lawsuits in Hollywood to stop additional infill projects are only emblematic of what is happening statewide.

Several years ago, the Sacramento Bee said that “CEQA has become not a protector of the environment but a promoter of sprawl, pushing the housing market away from existing neighborhoods and onto farmland, where the cows don’t sue.” Pretty ironic I would say for a law that is supposed to protect the environment.

Something must definitely be wrong when the California legislature itself takes the action of exempting its own pet projects such as stadiums, arenas and high speed rail from CEQA challenges. Even Governor Brown, two years ago, referred to the need for CEQA reform as “the Lord’s work” … and yet today, there is not a single bill going forward in Sacramento to reform CEQA. There are powerful interests lined up to prevent any changes. Everyone is afraid to touch it!

We visited Sacramento last month and discussed the need for CEQA reform. We were given a sympathetic ear by the legislators with whom we spoke, but they pointed out that there is no legislation this year for them to consider.

The fact is that you do not need to gut CEQA in order to achieve reforms that would make a difference. There are numerous steps that could be taken to level the playing field, such as increasing transparency, limiting the legal maneuvers that delay court action such as last minute “document dumping” by project opponents, expedited dispute resolution, etc. All it requires is a legislature with the courage to do what is right and to rein in the many frivolous claims that stop needed projects from going forward.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will continue to call for reform of CEQA, and we will urge our own representatives to lead the way. What a shame that there is no hope of progress this year. Let’s hope that next year true change will occur. Maybe then, California will get out of the basement as a place in which to do business.

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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.

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.