Wed, Aug

A Common Thread: Paying More to Get More

ALPERN AT LARGE - What do the Dream Act, NetFlix, the LAUSD, High-Speed Rail and the Crenshaw/LAX Metro Light Rail Project all have in common?  They all illustrate that for those of us lucky enough to still have jobs—yet all the while terrified as to whether we can afford to sustainably pay more to get more during this “Second Great Depression”—we have to use both our hearts and our brains to figure out what we’ll invest in without feeling chumped and exploited:

1) And never more than now have we been in need of BOTH our hearts and brains in making our own financial decisions, and in encouraging others to make theirs.  Too often the Republicans and other conservatives come across as having no hearts, and too often the Democrats and other liberals come across as having no brains, when they make anti- or pro-tax pitches to a voter base that is increasingly Independent and feeling unrepresented by either political party.

And while the primary GOP candidacy of Texas Governor Rick Perry might have been as destroyed by his “you have no heart” statement as was former President G.W. Bush’s GOP support when he chastised GOP opposition to his Comprehensive Immigration Reform Initiative, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California is having to listen to both his brain and heart as he agonizes over whether to pass the Dream Act…and risk losing voter support for raising taxes.

To say nothing of offending those who believe that playing by the rules deserves to be rewarded, (link) and that perhaps the innocent children of illegal immigrants should ask their parents (and their parents’ unscrupulous employers) why they are in this conundrum, rather than the legal taxpayers of our state and country who have their own children to take care of.

2) Meanwhile, in one of the most classless, clueless and baseless business moves seen in recent memory, Netflix showed neither brain nor heart by jacking up rates at such a sudden and high rate as to infuriate outraged, offended customers (and, subsequently, investors) and turn Netflix from a success to a crisis-laden company overnight.  (Link) Unfortunately, we have a business culture that allows Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to pull off a lame apology in the form of “I messed up.”

What?  No “I’m terribly sorry to my cherished customers, my employees who are at risk of losing their jobs, and to my injured investors and I therefore resign immediately and ask for your forgiveness”?  Probably not, and it’s doubtful that Hastings, who’s obviously more concerned for his reputation than the people he has hurt, will ever understand that people WILL pay more if there’s a proactive (not reactive) explanation and a promise to give a good deal for our hard-earned money.

3) Ditto for the K-12 education community in both Los Angeles and throughout the state, where cutbacks and a lack of perceived bang for the taxpayer dollar has valued teachers and other employees being torn from their beloved students and parents.  It’s horrible, and perhaps fixable with the right raising of new revenue, (link) but what lies in the way?

The perception of how some districts, including and especially the LAUSD, have hostile union-required and other bureaucratic dysfunctional ways of doing business, that prevent parents and taxpayers from paying more to get more.  By and large, parents do give more when informed where their money will go, but that’s not the case right now.

I am blessed to have my son go to Overland Ave. Elementary School, where time and money alike is spent by parents on what they clearly see is a good investment for the welfare of their children—but you can thank clowns like outgoing UTLA- leader-now-turned-education-reformer A.J. Duffy for preventing that perception from existing throughout the district.

4) And then there’s the California High Speed Rail Initiative, which promises to become a budgetary nightmare that is turning off fence-sitters and even supporters who voted for it because of the ever-increasing costs.  Unfortunately, the problem lies not so much in the costs (which, believe me, is problem enough!) but in how this Initiative is needed not as an alternative to flights from LA to San Francisco but as an alternative for cost-ineffective flights between those two cities and major cities in Central California, or between nearby airports.

And if JetBlue, hardly a failure in today’s competitive airline industry, favors high speed rail as complementary—and not competitive—to air travel, then perhaps it’s overdue for other airlines to do the same. (Link) And perhaps we can show a little love to the economies of Fresno, Bakersfield and Modesto, who stand to benefit more than either SF or LA by high-speed rail.

5) Finally, closer to home for us Angelenos, there’s the recently-passed Final EIR for the Crenshaw/LAX Metro Light Rail Project that has many fuming because of grade separations, stations and other amenities that may have to be sacrificed to stay within its $1.7 billion budget.

After all, we’ve got Leimert Park and Westchester without their much-valued stations (and without Westchester there will be a two-mile gap between stations, which is twice as long as the usual station gap and almost defeats the purpose of having a light rail line built at all) because of financial issues.

Yet we’re forced to build a $300 million trench to the east of the LAX runway paths, in large part NOT because of safety issues for incoming jets or electromagnetic interference between the trains’ overhead catenary lines and airport radar beacons, but “because the FAA says so” to its insistence on the trench.  Perhaps the new, cost-focused House leadership can get the FAA to rethink their arbitrary demands and really address whether the trench is needed.

After all, it’s not just the amount people pay—either for taxes or their private investments—but the perception of how well their money is being spent when it comes to getting hard-working, exhausted and tapped out folks to open their wallets yet again.  If we want taxpayers and consumers to pay more…then we have to PROVE it.

And that’s a winning strategy, more now in these tough times than ever, that you can take to the bank.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] . The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: NetFlix, K-12, Jet Blue, high-speed rail, metro, LAX

Vol 9 Issue 77
Pub: Sept 27, 2011