Public Nuisance Lawsuits Could Compound Cloudy California Economic Forecast

Government regulationToday, the sun is shining on the California economy, with unemployment at a record low. Our state is the fifth largest economy in the world with more billionaires than anywhere else in the country. State government is also doing well. Governor Brown inherited a $26 billion deficit upon entering office. Today, the state has a surplus of nearly $16 billion. This is good for businesses and good for the California families they support.

But there’s no guarantee those sunny days will last. In fact, many economists predict the dark clouds of recession in California’s future. Recessions are always particularly troubling for California because of our high reliance on wealthy taxpayers for revenue. Austerity could be on the way, as well as tough times for California businesses in a slower economy.

Another storm cloud looms on California’s horizon as well. California cities are increasingly considering filing so-called “public nuisance” lawsuits against manufacturers, alleging that manufacturers contribute to climate change and are at least partially responsible for sea level rise and wildfires. High-profile cases brought by San Francisco and Oakland have already been dismissed, as has a lawsuit brought by New York City. However, mayors and public officials in other California municipalities and in states like New York, Colorado, Rhode Island, Maryland and Washington continue to threaten manufacturers with lawsuits labeling them as public nuisances, seeking to both make political statements and score financial paydays.

California’s major cases aren’t out of the woods yet either. San Francisco and Oakland are appealing United States District Judge William Alsup’s dismissal of the case, with the cities’ opening brief due to the Ninth Circuit by December 10. Judge Alsup ruled, as did his counterpart in New York City’s case, that the problem of climate change is best addressed by the legislative and executive branches.

Fortunately, a number of California mayors are standing firm against these misguided lawsuits. Those include Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, who has publicly opposed climate litigation and noted that the courts are poor choices for handling climate policy decisions. Wagner has been joined by Huntington Beach Mayor Mike Posey, who warned in California Political Review that public nuisance lawsuits could eventually target municipal governments themselves and argued that working alongside manufacturers, not suing them, is the best way to achieve economic goals and job growth. La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw echoed this idea, stating that municipalities should refrain from filing frivolous climate lawsuits since mayors need to make it easier, not harder, for businesses to create more jobs.

These mayors and others, of course, have real reason for concern. California is hemorrhaging both people and businesses already. A November U.S. Census Bureau report says the Golden State has had 142,932 more residents exit to live in other states than people arriving from other states. This outflow is 11% higher than in 2015 and was second nationally only behind the New York and New Jersey area. Businesses are exiting too. Carl’s Jr., a longtime California icon, has relocated to Nashville. Toyota said goodbye to Torrance and will completely relocate its U.S. headquarters to Dallas in the coming weeks. Joining Toyota in Dallas is Jacobs Engineering Group, which is moving its $6.3 billion firm from Pasadena. Add to that growing list Nissan North America, Jamba Juice, Numira Biosciences, Chevron and Kubota Tractor and it’s easy to see why continuing to target manufacturers with lawsuits is a losing choice for the California economy.

Rather than running to the courthouse in pursuit of a failed legal strategy that will do nothing to help the environment, public officials should join with manufacturers in addressing the problem of climate change. This approach is already producing results. For example, Bloomberg reported last year that the five biggest energy manufacturers reduced their emissions by an average of 13% between 2010 and 2015, outpacing the U.S.’s 4.9% reduction over the same time span. Overall, manufacturers have reduced their emissions by 10% while increasing their overall value to the economy by 19% over the last decade. That progress is commendable.

Manufacturing is too critical to the California economy to continue threatening it. More than 10% of the state’s total economic output and about one in twelve workers depends on California’s $300 billion plus manufacturing sector. With businesses already fleeing high taxes and a less-than-welcoming business environment, the time is now to work toward productive solutions that both help the environment and protect manufacturing jobs. If California wants to avoid a gloomy economic future, local leaders must say no to public nuisance lawsuits that jeopardize manufacturers and the jobs they provide to hard-working Californians.

Whit Peterson is Director of Government Affairs, Greater Irvine Chamber

Why Does LAX Feel Like a Cross Between a Rundown Bus Station and a Refugee Camp?

VOICES FROM THE PUBLIC SQUARE-Los Angeles International has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of airports. It gets no respect—and with good reason. Dated, overcrowded, and inefficient, LAX’s primary redeeming characteristic is the mild Southern California weather. When J.D. Power & Associates rated LAX as the third-worst airport in the U.S. in 2010, many Angelenos probably assumed there was a mistake and asked themselves: “Two airports are lower on the list?”

I’ve experienced LAX as a professional charter pilot and an ordinary passenger for more than a third of a century. And so I’ve squirreled away more than one LAX horror story. It’s not uncommon to fly my aircraft from Van Nuys (home to a huge general aviation airport) to LAX in five minutes—and then spend the next hour (or more) crawling those last few feet from the runway to the terminal in a long line of jets. Believe me, regardless of which side of the cockpit door you’re on, LAX is no fun.

Of course, most major airports—think La Guardia, Hartsfield, JFK, McCarran—seem like crosses between rundown bus stations and urban refugee camps, with masses of downtrodden travelers being herded to and fro by security apparatchiks and airline employees who’ve “had it up to here.” So why is it so bad? LAX, and other major U.S. airports, look and feel so bad because they suffer from the same affliction: a national lack of runway capacity.

LAX, and other major U.S. airports, look and feel so bad because they suffer from the same affliction: a national lack of runway capacity.

To grasp what’s truly behind the gridlock and delays that mark any authentic LAX experience, one must understand that airports are to airplanes as roads are to cars. Merely expanding the existing roads isn’t enough to make real change. That’s why all the usual fixes we see proposed for LAX—like adding a terminal or gates, or extending runways—won’t fix the airport any more than widening the 405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass will alleviate West L.A. traffic jams.

Since we face a larger, more serious, and profoundly national infrastructure problem—a shortage of runways and airports—soliciting opinions on a solution for LAX is like asking how to fix a problematic train station when the entire system of tracks and switches is malformed.

Our airport is but one piece of an aviation infrastructure that has been allowed to shrink and decay most in the very areas where more capacity is needed. In other words, LAX is so overcrowded and sclerotic because no new airport capacity—here or elsewhere—is being developed. You wouldn’t expect to repair a clogged drain by allowing more water to back up in the sink, but for some reason we use that logic when it comes to airports.

Reliever airfields—airports that provide additional capacity to an area when the primary commercial airport is overburdened—have been shuttered throughout the LA area over a period of decades and now we’re seeing the result. Did you know that Inglewood, Huntington Park, Gardena, Culver City, and many other Los Angeles towns once hosted their own airports? Almost all of them are now gone, and those which remain have allowed residential and commercial development to encroach on the field to the point where any further expansion is impossible. Take a look at Santa Monica, Hawthorne, Compton, Whiteman, or virtually any other small airport in the Los Angeles area.

Long ago, when our population was a tiny fraction of what it is today, Los Angeles had a couple dozen active airports. But as the number of residents has risen, the airport count has fallen. It’s the exact opposite of what should be happening. Today, one of LAX’s primary relievers for general aviation traffic, Santa Monica Airport, is under threat of closure. If that happens, where do you suppose those airplanes will land?

Los Angeles is not alone. I live in Orange County, where we once had as many as 14 airports. Today only three remain: two civilian and one military. In 2002, voters had the opportunity to turn the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a commercial airport but declined to do so, allowing another much-needed series of runways to fall by the wayside. The same story is repeated across the country.

Self-proclaimed experts will tell you that the problem with our infrastructure is thousands of feet above our heads. Their argument: the reason American airports are so crowded is that the current ground-based air traffic control system can’t manage all our air traffic. That’s why the Federal government is spending billions of dollars to transition to a satellite-based air traffic control system referred to as “NextGen.” But I’ve been flying for decades and it’s extremely rare to see another airplane at altitude. It’s only the condensation trail emanating from the engines that visually reveals them at all.

A third grader could tell you that the sky is large and it’s our airports that are small. That’s where the real crush of traffic happens. We don’t lack airspace—we lack pavement.

This piece was originally published by City Watch LA

(Ron Rapp captains a Gulfstream IV-SP for one of L.A.’s largest charter companies. He’s also an aerobatic instructor and aircraft owner whose 7,000-plus hours have encompassed everything from experimental aircraft to crop dusting to tumbling through the air in his Pitts biplane. This piece was published originally at ZocaloPublicSquare.org … connecting people and ideas.)