the (new) american worker

Dear LA Businesses – What If Your Jobs Are Simply Inefficient?

There has been a lot of tension lately between Los Angeles-area businesses and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a media spectacle that comes on the heels of Villaraigosa’s recent proposal to enact rate hikes at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Yesterday marked the latest chapter in the saga, as the LA City Council voted 13-1 to reject Villaraigosa’s plan. The council will, however, take up the issue again Tuesday, thus propeling the mayor’s plan forward at least another week.

In a fight to shift demand towards more sustainable energy sources, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is honorably heading off political convenience for a broader good.

Quick to make Villaraigosa out as an economy-slaying villain, these businesses have claimed the mayor’s plan will bury businesses and consumers alike with rate hikes that could peak at 28 percent, according to this article in the LA Times. ‘How can we possibly survive this’ – CEOs have cried out. In nearly the same breath, they easily found their own answer – by cutting costs and reducing staff.

Naturally, in these tough economic times, any job losses are somewhat undesirable. But what Villaraigosa, in my opinion, is trying to do here is greater than propping up area businesses. What he is trying to do is use economics to shift demand towards more sustainable, cost-effective sources of power – in particular, solar utilities. And on the jobs front, well, Villaraigosa claims he can in fact create new jobs with his plan – new jobs that will not just send people to work every day, but increase their utility for the community at large. According to the LA Times, the mayor’s office hopes to create 16,000 new jobs in solar installation, and 1,600 new jobs for “DWP doctors” that would work as advisers to LA-area households on how to increase their energy efficiency.

One of my favorite things about this story is the political risks that are being taken. Even circling the topic of layoffs in a struggling economy is risky at best. But Villaraigosa and his supporters are taking the high road – putting good ideas to work and taking on the hard work of persuading communities to acknowledge opportunity costs. And guess what? Just because you have a job doesn’t mean it is necessarily all that efficient or that the government is required to do all things necessary to maintain your livelihood (ahem, GM).

A great quote from LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon (via LA Times):

“That concept has won the support of Councilman Richard Alarcon, who said that, as Los Angeles shifts to a green economy, some businesses will need to make ‘bottom-line decisions’ about whether they can continue to operate. ‘There are going to be more businesses that will not succeed. But if they don’t succeed, we want it to be for the right reasons — because we are moving the economy in the right direction,’ he said.”

A less great quote from City Council President Eric Garcetti:

“‘I’ve never been opposed to a responsible step forward’ in increasing electric rates, Garcetti said. ‘But to take a giant leap in the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression seems to be rash.'”

Ah, the Great Depression – or the “Great Recession” as the AP now asks reporters to term the economic downturn of late. Yes, it is valid, but how long will it just be a convenient excuse?

–Mia Lamar