Posts tagged ‘Ventura County’

Yet Another Absurd Obamacare-Related Requirement: Business Oaths

This is just sick, via Fox News and Bryan Preston

Consider what administration officials announcing the new exemption for medium-sized employers had to say about firms that might fire workers to get under the threshold and avoid hugely expensive new requirements of the law. Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. How will the feds know what employers were thinking when hiring and firing? Simple. Firms will be required to certify to the IRS – under penalty of perjury – that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions. To avoid ObamaCare costs you must swear that you are not trying to avoid ObamaCare costs. You can duck the law, but only if you promise not to say so.

As I have written about before, our company closed some California operations in December and laid off all the employees.  As with most business closures, we had multiple reasons for the closure.  The biggest problems were the local regulatory issues in Ventura County that made it impossible to make even simple improvements to the facilities.  But certainly looking ahead at costs soon to be imposed due to looming California minimum wage increases and the employer mandate contributed to the decision.

So, did I fire the workers over Obamacare?  If Obamacare were, say, 10% of the cause, would I be lying if I said I did not fire workers over Obamacare?  Or does it need to be 51% of the cause?  Or 1%?    Or 90%.  Business decisions are seldom based on single variables.  I am just exhausted with having my life run by people whose only experience with the real world was sitting in policy seminars at college.

Update:  The actual effect of this will not likely be to change business behavior, but change how they talk about it.  Worried that there will be too many stories next election about job losses due to Obamacare, the Administration is obviously cooking up ways not to limit the job losses, but to limit discussion of them.

Our Business's Response to California $2 Minimum Wage Increase

Well, we have completed our response to minimum wage increases in California.   As a review, California is raising its minimum wage from $8 to $10 (or 25%)  in two steps starting this July 1.  I will confess that in some of these cases the causes are complex, and are not just due to minimum wage changes but also other creeping California regulatory issues (particularly the first two).

  • Suspended operation and closed on large campground in Ventura County that employed about 25 people
  • Suspended investment / expansion plans at two other campgrounds
  • Raised prices everywhere else, on average adding $3 to a $20 camping fee.   (this is inevitable when wages are increased 25% in a business where more than half the costs are tied to wages and margins are around 5%)

The only reason I take the time to write this is that I think this tends to demonstrate that 1) minimum wage increases can have a real economic impact and 2) just looking at job losses after the date the wage takes effect can miss most of this economic impact.

To this latter point, a lot of the impact is not necessarily job losses.  We see lost investment, which perhaps means fewer jobs in the future but there is no way to measure that.  We see price increases, which affects consumers and disposable income.  And we see some job losses, but note that the job losses were 6 months before the law goes into effect.

We are left with a certainty that the minimum wage had a real economic effect but a suspicion that, at least in this case, that effect would not be measured.

By the way, there may also be a lesson here for those who believe that the entire problem in the economy is one of not enough aggregate demand.  In the last month I walked away from a million dollars a year of demand, because it was impossible to serve profitably, in large part due to regulatory issues.

Coyote in the News

I have a couple of quotes in this article on the difficulty of doing business in California.

On the same topic, Megan McArdle quoted extensively from my post on leaving Ventura County, and has some comments of her own.

Ventura County Blues, Update

One of my favorites writers Megan McArdle comments on my post about the regulatory excess in California.  The same post was linked by Reason as well.  The Reason post got the attention of Ron Paul, who will be interviewing me for his radio show next week.

I posted a few updates on the article today:

Wow, reading this again, I left out so much!  An employee once sued us at this location for harassment and intimidation by her manager -- when the manager was her sister!  It cost me over $20,000 in legal expenses to get the case dismissed.  I had an older couple file a state complaint for age discrimination when they were terminated -- despite the fact that our entire business model is to hire retired people and the vast majority of our employees are 70 and older.  And how could I have forgotten the process of getting a liquor license?  I suppose I left it out because while tedious (my wife and I had to fly to California to get fingerprinted, for example), it is not really worse than in other places -- liquor license processes are universally bad, a feature and not a bug for the established businesses one is trying to compete with.   We gave the license up pretty quickly, when we saw how crazy and irresponsible much of the customer base was.  Trying to make the place safer and more family friendly, we banned alcohol from the lake area, and faced a series of lawsuit threats over that.

Regulatory Suffocation

Taxes are usually the heart of the discussion when people talk about the bad business climate in California.  And certainly their taxes are just insanely high.  But for folks like me, an even bigger barrier is the regulatory environment. We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion.    In Ventura County, for example, we have  a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.

A big reason for this is the regulation in California and in Ventura County.    We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck.  We added a 500 gallon fuel tank for fueling boats (to eliminate the unsafe practice of driving in and out of town with about 100 5-gallon fuel containers) and it took over 3-years of trekking to multiple county and state offices to get it permitted.  We thus despaired of trying to get a campground expansion approved.   Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million and Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up.  And this is even before we fart with crazy California break laws and other nuttiness.

I have often told folks that I would love to see a liberal defender of all this regulatory overreach try to construct and open a restaurant in Ventura County.  It would be fascinating to watch.   (All this musing was touched off by this article on underground restaurants that try to sidestep this regulatory cost and mess).  We are a service business and California still has a lot of money, so we still operate in California.  But I continue to wonder why any company, like a manufacturer, remains in California.  Sell there yes, but produce anything you can out of state and ship it in.  Even as a service business we do a bit of this, no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California.  Even our labor force is partially "imported", as we hire folks who live in their RV's to come from all over the country to live and work at our campgrounds.

As I read the other day, if Silicon Valley were not already in California, would anyone in their right mind put it there?

Postscript:  One other story:  California's regulatory environment has caused a real shift in the culture as well.  At one location that we are closing this year, a local attorney has regular dinner meetings with groups of our employees to brainstorm among the group to see if they can come up with something to sue us over.

On Crazy Government Requests and Subsidizing Economists

There is some chance this may be apocryphal (I don't see any evidence the reporters confirmed this with the FDA), but as someone who has had government inspectors show up on our property demanding to see our license to sell eggs, it wouldn't surprise me if true.  I am bombarded with government insanity of this genre every day.

Apparently, a children's magician who was forced to obtain a government license for his stage rabbit is claiming

My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist. I just received an 8 page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc. They not only want to know how I will protect my rabbit during a disaster, but also what I will do after the disaster, to make sure my rabbit gets cared for properly.  I am not kidding–before the end of July I need to have this written rabbit disaster plan in place, or I am breaking the law.

The bizarre government requests like this one at least give us a laugh around here.  Less funny are the zillions of other pieces of waste paper that must be supplied to various agencies every month -- for example the 9 different permits which took 3 years to accumulate from Ventura County just to remove a dangerous and rotting deck  (not coincidentally, we are closing all our business in Ventura County at the end of this year).  Just in the last several days the Department of Labor asked for new, more onerous monthly reporting of headcounts and payroll by state (I declined) and the census bureau asked for quarterly rather than annual detailed reports of our lodging business (I declined).

One piece of advice I would give to harried small business people is to say "no" as often as possible to these data requests.  Obviously, you will need to turn in your monthly sales tax reports or you will be going to jail, but do you really need to feed the census?  The department of Commerce?  The Department of Agriculture?  The Labor Department?  Much of this data they gather is used either 1) to craft regulations that will just make your life as a business owner harder in the future or 2) to subsidize academics and economists in the form of free data.  As I told the Labor Department the other day, I am happy to fill out their survey if they want to pay me, say, $100 a month to compensate me for my time.  Otherwise they are just stealing free labor and proprietary data from me to help some grad student write her PHD or help some Wall Street hedge fund manager better call the market.

Our Great Political Sport: Scoring Points Off Tragedy

If one needs any skill as a politician, it is the ability -- with a straight face -- to, with no evidence whatsoever or even against countervailing evidence, blame any tragedy that occurs on your own personal bete noir.  Thus the Gabriel Giffords shooting was due to un-civil discourse by Conservatives, Benghazi was due to a YouTube video, the Boston Bombings were a results of too lenient immigration policy, the Newtown killings were due to the excess influence of the NRA, and the Gosnell murders were due to the legality of abortion.

In this same vein I received this email from California State Senator Fran Pavley

The recent Ventura County wildfires were just the latest example of the huge costs of climate change to California, serving as a reminder of the need for continued action, Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) said Thursday. Presiding over a hearing of the Select Committee on Climate Change and AB 32 Implementation, Sen. Pavley noted that the unseasonably early wildfire in Ventura County two weeks ago generated $10 million in firefighting costs. The dangers of climate change are no longer an abstraction, Sen. Pavley said.

“We can’t afford extreme climate, and so California doing its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is incredibly important,” Sen. Pavley said.

Wildfires are one of many costs of climate change, environmental officials and experts said at the hearing. California also faces flooding, heat waves and threats to its drinking water system.

Even before atmospheric levels of CO2 rose, the US had thousands, even tens of thousands of wildfires a year.  So against a backdrop which would expect many fires in California even absent climate change (natural or man-made), it would be heroic to attribute one single fire to the effect of mankind's  CO2 production.  But it is even more astounding given that wildfires in the US are actually down so far this year -- way down.  Here is the data source, and here are two charts the Real Science blog prepared from this data.

screenhunter_275-may-05-05-06 screenhunter_276-may-05-05-07

Wow, I Wonder Why Job Creation Isn't Occurring in California?

I wonder if its because companies have to beg for government permission, and then pay a hefty bribe, to get permission to hire more employees:

The city council in Menlo Park, Calif., is set to approve a deal that will let Facebook employ thousands more people at its headquarters there.

Mayor Kirsten Keith says officials are expected to green light the environmental impact report and the development agreement at a meeting Tuesday night. City staff has recommended the city approve the deal.

That means Facebook employees, currently numbering about 2,200 in Menlo Park, will soon be able to stretch out. If the deal is approved, Facebook will be able to employ about 6,600 workers in Menlo Park, up from its current limit of 3,600. That was the constraint on Sun Microsystems, which previously occupied the campus.

Facebook will pay Menlo Park an average of $850,000 a year over 10 years to compensate for the additional load on the city. It will also make a one-time payment of more than $1 million for capital improvements and set up community services such as high school internship and job training programs. Facebook is also creating a $500,000 local community fund that will dole out grants and charitable contributions to communities surrounding Facebook's campus.

Facebook is making the payments because Menlo Park can’t collect sales taxes from Facebook.

The last is a dodge - this is a protection racket, pure and simple.  Presumably Facebook pays property taxes on its corporate offices, as do its employees who live nearby.  Also, these new employees will all spend money in the local economy that will generate sales taxes.  Facebook presumably pays for water, sewer, trash and other utilities, and their employees are paying gas taxes as they drive that pay for the roads.  Facebook pays California income taxes, as do their employees.  What are these mystery costs that are not getting covered?  The community services bit is a hint that this is a stick-up, with Menlo Park demanding its cut of the recent IPO.

The truth is that cities and counties in California see business expansion plans the same way that Tony Soprano looks at the Museum of Science and Trucking -- as a way to maximize their skim.  I operate a campground in Ventura County that DOES pay sales taxes the County so far will not let me increase my live-in staff without making a big payment.  Even the remodeling of our store required 7 separate checks written to Ventura County agencies.

Update:  Minutes after I posted this, I see this at Reason about Ventura County's efforts to use zoning laws to shut down businesses.  Another Ventura story -- we tried to put a small trailer, really just a booth, in a large asphalt parking lot so my employee there could get out of the sun.  Putting a portable shed on a parking lot apparently required permits - lots of them.  At one point we were asked to get a soil sample, meaning they were asking us to cut through the paving and sample the dirt underneath.  Eventually we just gave up.

Least Surprising Statistic

via here, which has a lot of good data on California job losses.

If you have a service business, I can understand the desire to get access to the large and wealthy populations in these areas.  I even started a service operation in the LA area about 4 years ago, though I regret it intensely (other operations we have in rural CA are difficult but much easier than in LA).  But even so, why would anyone ever, ever start a manufacturing or any other business in these locations if it could be located anywhere else?

I was at a cocktail party the other night lamenting to a number of business owners (more successful folks than I) about problems I am having in CA.  Usually I get sympathy, but there was none to be had.  They looked at me like I was a moron, like I was the guy who went $30,000 in debt for a puppetry degree.  They said they had gotten out of CA years ago, would never go back, and (essentially) if I was stupid enough to be there, it was my own damn fault.

Unfortunately, a lot of the recreation is there, and for better or for worse, we have found that we are better and more efficient at dealing with a lot of the CA-induced mess than other companies.  But I often wonder if I am crazy to be there.

PS- as an example, it took us 4-1/2 years to get a permit for a 1000 gallon double wall gas tank at a marina in Ventura County.  We just got it approved last month, so at last we can stop hauling truckloads of 5-gallon fuel tanks from the gas station.  We are in the third year of trying to get permitting approval to replace (in kind, same size and features) a bathroom building in a campground.

Update:  All the job gains are in industries, like health care and construction, where the jobs have to be near the population served.  Compare that to manufacturing and tech.

Great Moments in Regulation

After over three years of effort, and many, many checks written to numerous departments, Ventura County has granted us the right to operate a fuel tank at a particular location near Lake Piru, CA.  This is actually a huge improvement, and will be much safer and less liable to create a spill than the current methods of schlepping around zillions of 5-gallon cans in a pickup truck.

However, we still have not, after 3 years of trying, obtained a permit from self-same Ventura County to install said tank.  So it is currently legal for us to own, posses, and operate a fuel tank at the permitted location but still illegal for us to install one there.

The tank we purchased 3-years ago in the naive hope all this permitting could be done in a month or two will probably be rusted out by the time we can actually install it.

Pay to Play

From the WSJ:

The wide-ranging pay-to-play probe concerns whether investment firms like Mr. Rattner's former firm, Quadrangle Group LLC, were held up for fees and favors to secure access to lucrative business from New York's $125 billion public-pension fund.

So government officials, who have all the power, demand bribes from businesses in order for those businesses to participate in a certain market, and when discovered it is the private businesses that are being investigated?

This is just so typical of government, where pay-to-play rules are in fact legislated for businesses from bars to taxicabs.  I can't do anything new in Ventura County without bringing a whole series of checks to the County planning offices -- nearly every single department must be paid off before I can do something as simple as remodel a bathroom or revamp a store.  None of this is under the table, mind you, it is entirely up front and nominally legal.

All My Business Problems Diagnosed

As explained by Steven Pearlstein, who presumably has created so much economic value in his lifetime that he can cast stones from the high ground

And some of it, to be quite frank, Robert, is an appalling lack of imagination and guts on the part of these same CEOs who are complaining and pointing the finger at every else. You know, these guys are very good at cutting. They're very good at blaming others. They're a little less good at coming up with creative new products and services, and they've got a little flabby in that regard in the last few years where the focus has been on surviving and cutting, as it should had been. But they're not the gutsiest group of people in the world.

And by the way, they get into this group think which you - you know, the fact that they all say it, it's sort of like a notion that starts in the country club locker room, and everyone is nodding, and then the one passes it on to the other. And now, you know, this similarity of the comments betrays this sort of group think that is almost self-fulfilling at this point.

Mr. Pearlstein is absolutely right.  As CEO of my company, I am out of creativity.  I will give you an example.  The new health care law appears (the implementation is still hazy) to impose a $2000 penalty per employee for not having a corporate health care plan (all my employees are retired, so they already have health care plans, but that does not affect the penalty).  With a bit over 400 employees, that makes the penalty something north of $800,000 a year.  This is larger than my annual net income.  And Mr. Pearlstein is correct -- I am absolutely at a loss as to how to deal with this, which just proves his point that all we CEO's have an appalling lack of creativity.

Mr. Pearlstein seems to be holding an image of the Fortune 25 in his head, but in fact most job creation is by smaller companies.  I wrote a while back on Forbes.com why CEO's of smaller companies have be having their creativity diverted.

Postscript: On January 10, 2008, our company actually, shockingly, had a creative idea.  Instead of refueling our boats at a lake in Ventura County, CA using zillions of 5 gallon gas carriers, lets put in a small double wall gas tank.  It would save a ton of useless labor, it would greatly reduce fuel spills on the lake (the nozzle, unlike the 5 gallon cans, has overflow protection), it would save lots of trips into town to fill gas tanks -- a winner all the way around.  Granted this was a pretty small idea, but sometimes success in small business is a lot of bunts and singles.

After hundreds of manhours of effort, numerous checks written to the County and the state, and I don't know how many forms filled out, on July 1, 2010, exactly 901 days after we got the creative idea, Ventura County gave us the last permit we needed to go forward.

The Organization of No

Government bureaucracies do not exercise power by allowing activities to occur - they only have power, and thus have reason to justify their continued funding and jobs, when they say no.   Every incentive that they have is to say no.  When a government agency allows progress to proceed smoothly, it is doing so because some person or small group is fighting against the very nature of the organization.  Anyone who believes otherwise about government agencies is challenged to go build and open a new restaurant in Ventura County, California.  Here is the latest example:

The [weatherizing] program was a hallmark of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a way to shore up the economy while encouraging people to conserve energy at home. But government rules about how to run what was deemed to be a ''shovel-ready'' project, including how much to pay contractors and how to protect historic homes during renovations, have thwarted chances at early success, according to an Associated Press review of the program.

''It seems like every day there is a new wrench in the works that keeps us from moving ahead,'' said program manager Joanne Chappell-Theunissen. She has spent the past several months mailing in photographs of old houses in rural Michigan to meet federal historic preservation rules. ''We keep playing catch-up.''

And of course, even in a skeptical article about a "stimulus" project, no one ever mentioned what productive activities the $5 billion was being used for by private individuals before the government yanked it away for this little catastrophe.

By the way, the overblown rhetoric award has to go to this:

''This is the beginning of the next industrial revolution with the explosion of clean energy investments,'' said assistant U.S. Energy Secretary Cathy Zoi. ''These are good jobs that are here to stay.''

Given that the first one was about steel mills and railroads and oil and electricity, if this new industrial revolution is all about caulking, I think I am getting nostalgic for the first one.

I Challenge Any of These Guys to Open A Business In Ventura County

Ever get that feeling like the Obama White House doesn't have a clue as to what it takes to actually run a business, make investments, hire people, sell a product, etc?  There is a reason for that:

obamacabinet

It has been fascinating to watch George McGovern change his tune about much of the regulatory state over the last 10 years as he has actually tried to run a business.

More Liquor License Woes

Apparently after 20 months of effort, I am within spitting distance of getting one of two liquor licenses I am applying for in Ventura County, California (the other had to be completely restarted due to some paperwork mistakes).

I had to just laugh at the last remaining hurdle.  A part of the licensing process is to post a public notice at the site.  The ABC called me and said they are holding my application until they get my affidavit of posting -- this is a one page form with my signature stating on what date the facility was posted.

But here is the funny part -- the ABC representative who is calling me actually posted the site herself.  She visited the facility as part of a mandated inspection and then posted the site.  The only way I knew what date the site was posted was by asking her.  So ABC is requiring that I submit a form to tell them what day they themselves posted the site, a date I had to get from them before I could put it on the form to send back to them.

Coming soon:  The Affidavit of Elevated Body Temperature and/or Vomiting that must be submitted before obtaining a doctor's appointment.