Charles Crumpley is the Editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal
If you’re a business person who has to deal with the city of Los Angeles, you may get the feeling you’re watching that old movie, “Three Faces of Eve.”
I mean, Los Angeles must have a multiple personality disorder. How else can you explain this:
On Tuesday, Councilman Tom LaBonge stood up at an event in which the governor and the mayor, among others, congratulated themselves for helping a bioscience business stay in Los Angeles. He implied that he was all in favor of helping businesses. LaBonge told the crowd that when he first met Austin Beutner, L.A.’s so-called jobs czar, a few months back, he instructed Beutner to “do what we can” to help businesses.
And then on Wednesday – the very next day – LaBonge stood on the Miracle Mile and tried to explain to reporters why he introduced two motions that essentially would ban gourmet food trucks – what may be the fastest growing of L.A.’s green shoots – from selling in the most popular areas of Los Angeles. (I criticized LaBonge on his food truck stance in a column last January for his astounding and arrogant comment that he didn’t think “this new wave of entrepreneurialism is something that people want to see.”)
So what does LaBonge believe? Is he a supporter of free enterprise? A guy who’ll “do what we can” to help business? Or a guy who stomps on green shoots? Is he Eve White or Eve Black?
LaBonge may be the most entrepreneurially confused of our elected leaders, but he’s not alone. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is perfectly comfortable playing the Joanne Woodward part; you never know if you’re going to get the nice guy who pats job-creators on the head or the conniver who stabs them in the back.
Just last week, for example, when Goldman Sachs announced that it was expanding its national entrepreneurship-boosting program throughout Los Angeles County, Villaraigosa was quick to jump in front of that parade.
“My No. 1 priority is getting the people of Los Angeles back to work,” Villaraigosa said in a press release. He went on to say that the Goldman Sachs program “will have a real impact on the lives of the 70 percent of Angelenos who are employed by small businesses.”
If you read that, you might think he’s a guy who understands the importance of entrepreneurship and job creation. It’s his No. 1 priority!
But Villaraigosa went even further last week. He announced a “tax holiday” in which startups and incoming businesses don’t have to pay the city’s gross receipts tax for three years. That was at the same appearance with the governor and LaBonge, the one in which they separately announced the expansion of an enterprise zone that will give a tax break and help the bioscience business stay in town, preserving 600 jobs.
Personally, I think these moves go too far. Why should some businesses get a tax break, but not others? Still, these tax breaks by elected officials at least show they have an impulse to help businesses.
Yet Villaraigosa can suddenly turn, Eve Black-like, as he did last year and cruelly exterminate hundreds of small trucking firms at the city-owned Port of Los Angeles. And speaking of the port, it is now snubbing a business that wants to create up to 1,000 jobs there. So we’ve got a city government that gives a tax break to one business to keep 600 jobs but suddenly changes personality and brushes off another business that wants to create 1,000 jobs without a tax break.
So is Los Angeles a city that wants to help businesses, and sometimes will even go too far to do so? Or does it want to kill them? Do we have Eve White or Eve Black?
You might recall that in the movie, eventually a third personality emerged. She was named Jane, and she reconciled the two Eves and went on to live a normal life – well, as normal as a recovering wacko can be.
I might be a hopeless idealist, but maybe Los Angeles can find its third personality. One that won’t give tax breaks for a favored few. One that won’t wantonly kill off its job creators. A third one. One that’s rational, predictable and, you know, sane.