Mayor and Business a Poor Union

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Antonio Villaraigosa’s re-election Tuesday is OK. After all, he is a pretty good mayor.

My only complaint: He’s no friend to business.

That’s always seemed evident but it became even more clear last week when, in a late campaign swing, he stopped by the Los Angeles Business Journal offices to meet with reporters and editors. Our first question: Since businesses here are stuck with unusually high costs and high tax rates – and soon will face among the country’s highest sales tax rates – is his administration doing anything to help L.A.’s businesses combat those disadvantages?

Instead of talking about what he plans to do, he talked about the past. He said that when the city was facing a big budget deficit, he refused to suspend the third year of a scheduled tax cut for businesses.

Instead of talking about lifelines to businesses, he talked about how he’s trying hard not to lay off city employees and how he’s worked with the unions to save the city money.

Those responses were telling. When asked about issues or problems of interest to businesses in the city, his thoughts and answers veer to city budgets, city processes and city workers. Businesses apparently seem like abstractions to him; he can’t seem to see the world through a businessperson’s eyes.

But that’s not surprising. His background is mostly as a union organizer, as president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and as a politician.

What’s more, Villaraigosa did little at our meeting to dispel the notion that he’s in bed with labor unions.

He basically confirmed suspicions that Measure B, the issue on the ballot Tuesday to boost solar power in Los Angeles, was written to intentionally benefit the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union.

"You say, ‘We cut a deal with them.’ Yeah, we did. We built a partnership with them," the mayor said.

His rationale: The politically powerful IBEW was against past solar power initiatives because "they didn’t see any jobs." So Measure B was written to gain the union’s help rather than its enmity.

Of course, that ignores the important question: Shouldn’t voters decide the solar power issue on its merits rather than being presented a gimme for the IBEW masquerading as a clean-energy initiative?

Villaraigosa also was unrepentant about the clean truck program at the Port of Los Angeles, which was written in such a way that opened the door to the Teamsters union at the port. But it also will seriously hurt or even kill hundreds, maybe a thousand, small trucking firms that serve the port. What would he say to them?

"That’s progress," he said.

To be fair, Villaraigosa said he opposes tax increases (although fees may go up), he has not stopped and even helped some nonunion businesses come to town, he’s pushing the 12-to-2 plan that reduces the number of stops a new business must make at City Hall and he wants to privatize or at least create public-private partnerships for the city’s parking assets and zoo and the like.

Again, Villaraigosa’s re-election is not all bad. He’s a conspicuous ambassador for Los Angeles, and his restless energy and coalition-building instincts serve him well in responding to the multidimensional and multiethnic issues and problems of the city. He has an "in" with the current administration in Washington.

But most business owners and operators in Los Angeles have no friend in the mayor’s office for the next four years.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]

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