Archive for the ‘California’ Category

A New Chapter

Posted: April 15, 2016 in California, Canada, Jobs, Planning, Transportation

Well. I am beginning a new chapter in my quest to do more than just get by. My time in Canada has come to an end, and I have returned to California. I am currently jobless, but I did get a decent severance package which will hopefully not be substantially needed while I job hunt for urban planning opportunities up and down the coast. One success I have had so far, beyond driving 2500+ miles from Fort McMurray, Alberta, to Fresno, California, is this:

I successfully, IN ONE TIME WITH NO REPEAT TRIPS TO THE DMV, imported and registered a Canadian vehicle in the most complicated state in these here United States! No plates yet, because I ordered one of the coastal specialty platesDN03-WHALE-DC (because beach bum, yo), and those will need to be sent from Sacramento instead of issued at the DMV. Still, I am registered and good to go!

Beyond that, this will be the new chapter in my life, and I hope to document plenty of success at more than just getting by. I hope you enjoy the story.

A Case of the Stupids

Posted: October 31, 2011 in California, Economy, Jobs

So…California is suffering from extended periods of high unemployment.  Frankly, much of the nation is suffering similarly, but California’s size and economic prominence begets additional scrutiny.  Anybody who pays any attention to economic development, politics, the business world in general, or governmental regulations in general, knows that California is not an easy place to do business.  Between taxes, environmental regulations, labor regulations, and overall cost of living, there are compelling reasons to NOT set up shop in California.  Furthermore, most of the California media do semi-regular stories on businesses in California that have pulled up stakes and fled to more welcoming business climates such as Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

So you can imagine my shock upon reading this article on the San Diego Union-Tribune’s website.  To sum up, a local developer wants to develop a mixed-use apartment complex at the waterfront edge of San Diego’s downtown area.  Normally, that might be a welcome development (no pun intended) that would generate some much-needed construction work.  Unfortunately, across the street from the project site is a heavy industrial factory operated by Solar Turbines.  Solar manufactures gas turbines that are sold the world over, and their site has been used as a manufacturing facility going back to the 1920s.  Approval of the apartment project would pretty much preclude further operations at the Solar plant, because the acquisition of any new equipment would trigger environmental reviews…reviews that likely would not pass muster with residential uses a mere 100 feet away.  Solar does have an additional facility in a different part of San Diego, but to shift the waterfront operations to their other facility would require a substantial dollar investment…a much greater investment than it would in many other parts of the country.  According to Solar’s president, D. James Umpleby,

“The primary issue is that we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in machine tools. If we were in fact to invest the millions it would take to leave this site, it wouldn’t be a prudent business decision to put the plant in the state of California. Heavy manufacturing has left California for the last 30 years. We’re one of the last heavy manufacturers here. If in fact you looked at the business climate, environmental regulations, costs, taxes, everything that goes into heavy manufacturing in San Diego County — if you invested the money, quite frankly, you probably would not stop until you hit the fence line (of the state).”

To further muddy the waters, San Diego in general and downtown in particular suffers from a glut of housing.  Downtown took part in the condo boom of 2003-2007, and a good number of the unsold properties were converted to rental units.  I have a hard time believing that vacancy rates are low enough to justify another rental housing project, and I definitely have a hard time trading existing, long-term established jobs for what would amount to temporary, short-term jobs.  This is an ugly situation, and I can only hope that the City of San Diego, the San Diego Unified Port District, and the Centre City Development Corporation (Downtown San Diego’s redevelopment agency) take a cold hard look at reality and realize that the loss of Solar would far outweigh any benefits that another apartment development would bring to the waterfront.

In a previous post, I laid out what I thought would be the best possible jobs program that had the proverbial snowball’s chance of actually creating jobs and generating economic growth. My rationale exhibited elements of both Keynesian thought (government spending) and Reagan-esque/Tea Party mantra (people working will generate revenue which will go back into the economy, thereby creating more jobs, and create more revenue, and so on and so on). I know that Democrats would be less than enthused about the idea of spending the money on private sector firms and letting them do business with as little regulatory impediment as possible. Conversely, I know that Republicans would be every bit as frustrated at the notion of further government spending on giant public works projects. Frankly, it is that element of annoying those on both sides of the aisle that tells me I might actually be onto a workable idea.

So. Having finished up a good workout at the gym, I decided to see what was happening in the world and fired up NPR’s website. The top center article was an article about the SF/Oakland Bay Bridge project undertaken by Caltrans. The focus of the article wasn’t that it was a prime example of the type of long-term infrastructure project that I (and President Obama) have talked about. Rather, the focus of the article was that a good portion of the fabrication and manufacturing work was outsourced to China. In the article, California Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) states, “When you have a project of that size here in California, it has a multiplier effect…it gives thousands of families those jobs, and then those paychecks and their subsequent spending ends up going back into our economy. And so now all that money has permanently disappeared from California.” That certainly sounds familiar…and it’s a Democrat that’s agreeing with me! In the article, it noted that the contractor who won the bid was approximately $400 million cheaper than the next bidder, partially due to the fact that (as an example) Chinese steel polishers make approximately $12 per day. A district director for the United Steelworkers Union noted that it was impossible for American workers to compete with workers earning only $12 per day. And he’s correct.

In the course of dissecting the unemployment figures, there have been discussions floating around the media and the internet (Linkedin is a prime source) as to whether America needs to revive/maintain its manufacturing base. Personally, as you may have surmised, I fall into the camp of revive/maintain. I feel this way for several reasons (many of those out of work come from manufacturing-related industries, manufacturing breeds innovation, without a manufacturing base we become a contributory economy, without manufacturing we become dependent on/at risk from other countries for our manufactured goods, etc.), but I’m not blind to the fact that manufacturing in the US has a hard time competing on a global stage. On one hand, you’ve got places like Malaysia, India, and yes, China paying their workers a microscopic percentage of what US workers make, while the government not only subsidizes the companies’ work but also passes all sorts of regulatory measures designed to maximize protection and competitiveness of those same companies. China even requires foreign companies who want to do business in their markets to enter into an agreement with a local firm (who would otherwise likely be a competitor), usually involving some level of ownership interest by the Chinese firm in the foreign firm (very true in the Chinese automotive industry, for example). On the other hand, businesses actually operating in the US are subject to extremely rigorous regulations in the financial, labor, and environmental elements of business, not to mention much of the manufacturing work is done in union shops. Where other countries minimize restrictions and maximize support, we seem to do the opposite.

It will certainly upset the true believer, free market members on the right, but it may be time to consider some protectionist actions. If nothing else, simply imposing increased import duties on imported products. Possibly even going all the way to sectoral reciprocity, where we would impose regulations/conditions/restrictions on products (for example) from China that were effectively identical to those that China would impose on similar products from the US. On the other hand (see, I’m really good at finding that middle ground that can piss everybody off!), I would certainly look at abolishing the unions. There may have been a time when they were genuinely effective at protecting workers, but the combination of the labor laws that are currently in place, the other regulations that govern the workplace (i.e. safety, environmental, etc.), and the seemingly instant transparency of the media (CNN, TMZ, Drudge Report, internet), I question whether the unions are genuinely necessary to ensure that the workers are not wholesale taken advantage of. On a semi-related note, there have been some new manufacturing jobs created, primarily in the automotive industry. Foreign automotive manufacturers from Toyota to Mercedes Benz to Hyundai to Volkswagen have set up major (and sometimes multiple) manufacturing facilities in the United States. And the one thing that most, if not all of them share…they are not unionized. And despite not being unionized, the workers at these manufacturing facilities don’t seem to be abused, exploited or otherwise placed in harm’s way or taken advantage of. As with other suggestions I’ve made, the majority of the ideas I’ve shared should ultimately be temporary in nature. Once the economy has found its footing and developed positive momentum, these measures should be slowly dialed back so as to restore general market activities.

Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that we are suffering a jobs crisis. Every economy needs some sort of core or base, and a base that consists of manufacturing and other similar/related uses ensures that not just the economy but society as a whole rests on a stable and supportive base. Even on a temporary basis, I believe that these types of measures can definitely have a positive effect and do it quickly