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Maria Gutzeit: California needs to improve business attitude

Posted: April 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

My one-word summary of the community lobby day put on by Assemblyman Scott Wilk. R-Santa Clarita, and KHTS radio last month?

Depressing.

A good portion of the speakers reiterated the concept that California doesn’t care about business, and that smart business owners should just resign themselves to that and carry on.

Is it a lost cause? Or are there glimmers of hope indicating we need to keep trying?

Because of my young daughter and some evidence of change, I think the latter is the way to go, at least for my own sanity.

How silly is the news on the California business climate, just viewed in aggregate?

We small business owners just got through writing our big giant tax checks.

We gag. We sulk. We just "eat it." But really, it means less eating out and less money spent in our town.

Every business person I know is a family person, most live in this community, and they unanimously talk of belt tightening, muddling through, or to quote a prominent attorney, "working harder for every dollar I get to keep in my pocket."

Yet this week we read news about how multi-billion-dollar freeway projects (toll lanes) actually don’t help reduce travel time for the majority of freeway users.

We read about the Sanitation District, governed by two of our City Council members and a county supervisor, approving a change order for $334,000 for a public relations budget to tell us we really need to pay more to achieve the lowest chloride level in the state because the first $551,000 in PR budget didn’t convince us.

You just have to wonder what business owner would be OK with such demonstrations of poor planning. Concepts such as of "return on investment," "lump sum not-to-exceed" quotes, or even "total project cost, with debt service and operating and maintenance costs" seem foreign in nearly every public undertaking these days.

At best we get a shrug and go, "oh well, it’s complicated" as the tax checks we write get flushed in the toilet of mismanagement and "somebody else’s money."

Also in the news, we see that even the "green" energy company BrightSource has now been forced to mothball a solar plant in California due to permitting and financing problems. A recent news story on Gov. Brown’s visit to China promoting our "green innovations" first mentions an offer to let them copy our air regulations.

It is then followed by California business owners pitching concepts of waste-to-energy that would never fly in today’s California. We can export our regulations, but even solar farms and waste-to-energy firms give up on our state? Truly comedic.

This would all be depressing, but I have to think the shifts that are happening politically will ultimately also void the concept that business and environment are mutually exclusive.

I have faith that business leaders will keep trying to engage in dialogue, not just taking one-way dictation from public officials unclear of how a factory runs, how loans are made, how every single piece of added paperwork is a cost that darn well better be justified by significant benefit to the communities.

I have faith that the people trying to sell clean energy alternatives in China will also try to convince our lawmakers that the same technology should be made feasible in our own state.

I have faith that those involved in making regulations will take the time to understand what implementation of laws entails, even to the point of understanding that expending millions of dollars to cut mere grams of this or that pollutant may be their right, but may not be the best for our state as a whole.

I have to believe our voters want both a clean community and the jobs that enable them to live here and raise their children here. Without change, we will indeed have clean communities of unemployed or underemployed people with crumbling infrastructure due to loss of both high-wage manufacturing jobs AND the very green businesses we think can magically exist in a state that doesn’t even let them open a solar farm or recycling center.

Believe me, as an engineer, I know the solution is there. We can indeed have a clean environment, good government, and a thriving economy that rewards the hard work that goes into innovating, making, and building things.

We will get there when we stop thinking we have unlimited money to squander on piecemeal, irrelevant and mismanaged projects, and when we get elected officials who make decisions based on net benefits, not lobbyists and the squeaky wheel du jour.

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita Valley resident, small-business owner and member of the Newhall County Water District board of directors.

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