California Regulators Banned Angela Marsden’s Customers from Eating Outside, but Allowed Next Door “Essential” TV Comedy Workers to Eat Outside


The news report above was posted to YouTube by ABC channel 7 in Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2020.

(p. 4) For more than a week, tensions have flared between Los Angeles restaurant owners and politicians over the county’s ban on outdoor dining, which health officials say is necessary to slow the surging pandemic — and restaurateurs say is destroying their livelihoods.

The controversy came to a head on Saturday when a restaurant owner shared a video on social media showing tents, tables and chairs set up as a catering station for a film crew — just feet away from her eatery’s similar outdoor dining space, which has sat empty since the restriction went into effect late last month.

“Tell me that this is dangerous, but right next to me — as a slap in my face — that’s safe?” Angela Marsden, who owns the restaurant, Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, said as the video panned from her outdoor dining space to the film crew’s catering site.

Ms. Marsden had already organized a protest against the outdoor dining ban before discovering the film tents. On Saturday, she and others gathered outside County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s house, saying the government’s uneven application of the rules was crushing small businesses.

. . .

The catering site was for a crew filming “Good Girls,” a comedy television show that airs on NBC, according to Philip Sokoloski, a spokesman for FilmLA, which helps Los Angeles manage film permits. Mr. Sokoloski said the catering site and the film location nearby were both authorized under a permit issued by the city.

. . .

California has declared entertainment industry workers essential, and in Los Angeles County they must follow strict guidelines such as eating in staggered shifts or in an area large enough to stay six feet apart.

Ms. Marsden said in an interview that she saw two people eating without masks at the tables when she went to her restaurant on Friday to pick up paychecks for her employees and supplies for the protest.

. . .

She said she had worked hard to make her outdoor patio compliant with the previous guidelines for outdoor dining before it, too, was banned.

“You name it, we did it,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. “Restaurant Owners See Cruel Disparity in Los Angeles’s Outdoor Dining Ban.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 4, 2021 [sic], and has the title “She Couldn’t Open for Outdoor Dining. The Film Crew Next Door Could.”)

California Tech Firms Move to Texas for Its “Laissez-Faire Environment”

(p. B1) Moves by high-profile companies to Texas from California are likely to improve the personal finances of executives and offer employees more affordable housing—but make little difference to the firms’ tax bills.

Oracle Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Co. are the latest big corporations to announce moves to the Lone Star State. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc., is also moving to Texas, and the electric car company is expanding there.

The announcements have highlighted the vastly different tax and regulatory systems in the country’s two most populous states. California relies more on taxing personal income, particularly of high-income households, and operates a growing regulatory structure. Texas leans on more regressive property and sales taxes and boasts a more laissez-faire environment. The biggest difference: High-paid executives who move can see their state income-tax bills go from 13.3% to nothing.

. . .

(p. B2) Changing addresses or even moving people and facilities doesn’t necessarily change a company’s tax costs on its own.

. . .

The bigger factor—outweighing any change in business taxes—is likely to be the lower cost of employing workers in the state. For most people, that calculation is more about housing costs, said Darien Shanske, a tax law professor at the University of California, Davis. Housing scarcity and land-use regulations are bigger drivers of payroll costs than taxes.

“Moving a headquarters to Austin where people can afford a place to live, that dominates whether they pay the personal income tax, for most people,” Mr. Shanske said.

For the full story, see:

Richard Rubin and Theo Francis. “Lower Costs Draw Tech Firms to Texas.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec 17, 2020): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 16, 2020, and has the title “Texas’ Tax Advantage Is All About Individuals, Not Business Taxes.”)

Salt Lake City’s ‘Robustly Redundant Labor Market’

(p. B1) As the pandemic raged through the U.S. in 2020, no metropolitan area in the country expanded the size of its labor force more on a percentage basis than Utah’s capital. It also had the lowest average unemployment rate and the highest share of people working or looking for jobs. These signs of strength helped it rank first among 53 large metro areas in an annual examination of U.S. labor markets conducted by The Wall Street Journal, after ranking No. 4 in 2019.

Other cities that emerged as beacons to job seekers and businesses during the pandemic were, like Salt Lake City, located far from the coasts. Hubs in the Southwest and Midwest such as Austin, Denver, Indianapolis and Kansas City minimized employment losses, kept unemployment relatively low and retained and attracted workers in a year when the U.S. lost more than 9 million jobs.

Some benefited from technology jobs that became even more critical during a time of isolation for many Americans, while others relied on older corners of the economy that were also in high demand. Workers gravitated to these places due to the job opportunities, lower costs and a quieter lifestyle that appealed to some migrants from bigger population centers who were now allowed to work remotely.

The losers were tourist hot spots such as Las Vegas or densely-populated cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago that lost workers as the coronavirus spread. Even once-hot tech hubs of San Francisco, Raleigh, N.C., and Boston suffered de-(p. B8)clines. Some of these laggards were more aggressive with their business lockdowns, allowing rival metros with fewer restrictions and lower costs to capitalize on the chaos.

. . .

Salt Lake City wasn’t immune from the spread of Covid-19, but it was able to avoid multiple shutdowns that crippled other cities. It did so partly because of a shared local effort to keep businesses open. The local chamber of commerce and state health department partnered on a campaign where participating local companies committed to having their employees maintain distance from others, wear masks and stay home when they are sick.

. . .

“It appears to be exceptionally friendly to business here,” Mr. Mulligan said. His company, Pubtelly LLC, sells software to sports bars and similar establishments to manage content playing on their TVs. The Salt Lake area has a healthy (p. B9) mix of growing startups and well-established companies, he said, plus a strong local university network that serves as a pipeline for younger talent.

If his current venture doesn’t pan out, Mr. Mulligan said he would be happy to stay in the Salt Lake area, either working for a local company or launching another business. “I don’t see a challenge with either going to work for someone else, or forming a company with others,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Danny Dougherty, Hannah Lang, and Kim Mackrael. “The New American Boomtowns.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 10, 2021): B1 & B8-B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Where Can You Find a New Job? Try These U.S. Cities.”)

Long Beach Supermarket Workers Lose Jobs Due to Higher Minimum Wage

(p. A15) As these things always do, it started out with the best intentions. In January [2021] the City Council of Long Beach, Calif., adopted an ordinance requiring large grocery-store chains to pay employees an extra $4 an hour. The idea was to reward them for the risks they took by doing their jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

It didn’t turn out that way. In response to the ordinance, Kroger Co. announced it would close two Long Beach supermarkets.

. . .

As one of the world’s largest retailers, Kroger makes an easy villain. But instead of blaming “reckless capitalism,” might the fault lie with the reckless politicians who passed this measure? Thanks to their intervention, instead of finding an extra $4 an hour in their paychecks, nearly 200 grocery workers will now have no paychecks at all unless they are transferred to another store or find another job. It’s but the latest illustration of economist Thomas Sowell’s dictum that whatever a government might set it at, “the real minimum wage is always zero.”

For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. “The Human Cost of a Minimum Wage.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 16, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 15, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Members of the Elite Exempt Themselves from Rules They Impose on the Hoi Polloi

(p. 12) SAN FRANCISCO — It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled, private dining room in one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore masks, not the lobbyists, not even the governor.

Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at the French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals go for $450 per person, have sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly admonished residents to be extra vigilant amid the biggest spike in infections since the pandemic began.

. . .

The photos of the gathering, taken by a diner at a nearby table and shared with a local television station, also showed the chief executive for the California Medical Association and the organization’s top lobbyist.

. . .

In a 2019 review of the French Laundry and two other Napa restaurants, the New York Times critic Tejal Rao described being “overwhelmed by the opulence” and feeling as if transported onto a “spaceship for the 1 percent, now orbiting a burning planet.” Mr. Newsom said in October that his children, who attend private school, returned to in-person classes even as most of the state struggles with remote learning.

“Newsom and the first partner eschewed state public health guidelines to dine with friends at a time when the governor has asked families to scale back Thanksgiving plans,” wrote the Sacramento Bee editorial board on Friday. It added, “If the governor can eat out with friends — and if his children can attend their expensive school — why must everyone else sacrifice?”

For the full story, see:

Thomas Fuller. “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 22, 2020): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 18, 2020, and has the title “For California Governor the Coronavirus Message Is Do as I Say, Not as I Dine.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version was “California Governor Calls” and appeared on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The title of my National print version was “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians” and appeared on Sunday, November 22, 2020.)

For California Electricity Regulator: “Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing”

(p. A1) PG&E’s collapse has exposed the California Public Utilities Commission’s failure to hold the utility accountable on safety. The CPUC (p. A12) for years focused attention elsewhere, on setting rates and pushing for cleaner power.

Now, the agency tasked with regulating utility safety is struggling to refocus on the issue while also grappling with its failure to prevent the state’s second electricity crisis in two decades.

. . .

From the early 2000s, the commission’s focus was on setting rates and implementing Sacramento’s renewable-energy goals. Starting in 2002, three consecutive governors, two Democrats and a Republican, signed bills ratcheting up the percentage of wind and solar power utilities had to buy.

These mandates required investor-owned utilities such as PG&E to change their mix of generation, effectively phasing out burning coal and lowering reliance on natural gas while signing contracts to buy electricity from new solar and wind farms. The CPUC oversaw these deals, as well as figuring out how to integrate thousands of new rooftop solar installations.

“Was there a considerable amount of resources placed on policy? Yeah, there was,” says Timothy Alan Simon, a commissioner between 2007 and 2012 and now a utilities consultant. “It’s a challenge to balance between the safety aspects and the need for policy deliberation.”

Michael Peevey, a former Southern California Edison president, and CPUC president between 2002 and 2014, was a vocal champion of renewable-energy policies. Now retired, he says the regulator was large enough to focus on safety and renewables simultaneously but that it was tough to get Sacramento lawmakers excited about funding safety.

When compared with eliminating coal and adding solar energy, he says, “Safety is not a glamorous thing.”

For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. “PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Crisis.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 9, 2019): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 8, 2019, and has the title “‘Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing’: How PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Wildfire Crisis.”)

California Energy Shortage Partly Due to Government Mandated Price Ceiling on Energy Imported from Out-of-State

(p. B9) As California keeps facing electricity shortages, the discussion around its grid often veers to extremes.

. . .

Should California . . . have shut down less natural gas and nuclear power? That is definitely part of the issue, and future shutdowns might need to slow.

. . .

. . . at least some of the shortage is addressable through market rules.

For example, California has a hard import bid cap of $1,000 per megawatt hour. Christopher DaCosta, regional director of western power markets at Wood Mackenzie, says that surrounding areas have a softer cap and are able to pay more. During this summer, that meant power plants often rerouted electricity to higher bidders than California.

For the full commentary, see:

Jinjoo Lee. “To Keep Lights On, California Needs Power Play.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, September 17, 2020): B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 16, 2020, and has the title “How to Keep the Lights On in California.”)

California Government Allowed “Buildup” of “Fuel for Future Blazes”

(p. A1) California is one of America’s marvels. By moving vast quantities of water and suppressing wildfires for decades, the state has transformed its arid and mountainous landscape into the richest, most populous and bounteous place in the nation.

. . .

(p. A16) The intensity of the fires . . . reflects decades of policy decisions that altered those forests, according to Robert Bonnie, who oversaw the United States Forest Service under President Barack Obama. And the cost of those decisions is now coming due.

In an effort to protect homes and encourage new building, governments for decades focused on suppressing fires that occurred naturally, allowing the buildup of vegetation that would provide fuel for future blazes. Even after the drawbacks of that approach became clear, officials remained reluctant to reduce that vegetation through prescribed burns, wary of upsetting residents with smoke or starting a fire that might burn out of control.

That approach made California’s forests more comfortable for the estimated 11 million people who now live in and around them. But it has also made them more susceptible to catastrophic fires. “We’ve sort of built up this fire debt,” Mr. Bonnie said. “People are going to have to tolerate smoke and risk.”

For the full story, see:

Christopher Flavelle. “Mankind’s Feats Place California At Climate Risk.” The New York Times (Monday, September 21, 2020): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2020, and has the title “How California Became Ground Zero for Climate Disasters.”)

Covid-19 May Shift Restaurants Toward Fewer Workers and More Take-Out, Even in Long Run

(p. B4) Andrew Snow was supposed to be ramping up by now. Mr. Snow, who owns the Golden Squirrel, a restaurant and bar in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, cut his staff of 28 people to two after the pandemic hit.

. . .

Now business is slowing again, as California is averaging about 8,000 new cases a day, about triple the level a month ago. Mr. Snow’s plans to bring back workers over the holiday weekend didn’t come to pass, and he has put further hiring on hold.

“People are scared,” he said in an interview. “The math for having more people doesn’t work out anymore.”

. . .

The longer the pandemic’s disruption, the more likely it is that some jobs will never come back. For instance, a number of restaurants had already switched to counter service, even for fairly high-end meals, to avoid the need for servers who have a hard time affording housing in big cities. Now virtually every restaurant in California is operating around counter service or delivery, and some may not change back.

Mr. Snow, for example, envisions a restaurant where people order at the bar, eat far from other patrons, then leave with a bag of groceries. The Golden Squirrel would have fewer employees, compensating for a less-full restaurant with expanded takeout orders.

“Some of the changes will make us a better business in the future,” Mr. Snow said. “The challenge is getting to that future.”

For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. “After Riding a Boom, California Braces for Hard Times.” The New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 14, 2020, and has the title “California, After Riding a Boom, Braces for Hard Times.”)

California Places the Regulatory “Final Straw” on Elon Musk’s Tesla

(p. A15) Informed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s authorities that his factory in Fremont had to remain in lockdown, Mr. Musk tweeted: “Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately.”

The keyword here is “final straw,” suggesting that Mr. Musk’s cost-of-doing-business problems with California predate this virus. Hundreds of businesses already have relocated out of California, fleeing the uncountable regulatory straws the state has laid across the backs of anyone doing business there.

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Henninger. “WONDER LAND; Elon Musk’s ‘Final Straw’.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 21, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

Is Jeff Bezos Still a “Project Entrepreneur”?

In my Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, I suggest that different innovative entrepreneurs have different motives. Some mainly want money for its own sake, some mainly want fame, some mainly want to win the competition. Then there are those who mainly want to bring their project into the world. These are the project entrepreneurs, who often sacrifice for their project, forgoing conspicuous consumption in order to “make a ding in the universe.” (The phrase is due to Steve Jobs.) In my book I give Walt Disney as one example, and Jeff Bezos as another. Was I wrong? Or has Bezos changed? Or is there some other way to account for what looks like Bezos’s conspicuous consumption, as described below?

(p. B4) The national housing market has cooled, but in Los Angeles the ultrarich are still shattering price records. An heiress to the Formula One racing empire sold her home for $119.75 million last July. In December, Lachlan Murdoch paid $150 million for a home in Bel Air.

The latest buyer at the top: Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief and world’s richest person.

Setting a new high for a home sold in California, Mr. Bezos is paying $165 million for a Beverly Hills estate owned by David Geffen, the media mogul and co-founder of DreamWorks, according to two people familiar with the purchase.

That wasn’t all. In a separate transaction, Bezos Expeditions, which oversees The Washington Post and Mr. Bezos’ charitable foundation, is buying 120 undeveloped acres in Beverly Hills for $90 million, the two people said.

For the full story, see:

Candace Jackson. “Bezos Is Setting Record By Paying $165 Million To Buy Geffen’s Estate.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 15, 2020): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 14, 2020, and has the title “Jeff Bezos Buying $165 Million Estate, a California Record.”)

My book is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.