Wendy Greuel, 51, has served nearly four years as city controller. Before that, she served seven years on the City Council representing the eastern San Fernando Valley. She also is a co-owner of a family-run building supply business in North Hollywood. She met with the Business Journal recently to discuss the issues related to business and the local economy in the mayor’s race. Here is a transcript, edited for brevity:
Question: Do you favor immediate elimination of the gross receipts tax?
Answer: As a business owner, I get that a tax on gross receipts bears no relation to profit. But we must do this in a fiscally responsible way, so that we don’t have a drop-off of $460 million in revenue tomorrow. I was the architect of business tax reform in 2006 that contained a trigger at the start of each year to make sure enough revenue was coming in. That reform worked.
The city’s living-wage law now applies to city contractors and hotels. Would you work to expand the living-wage law to other private-sector businesses in the city?
Where there’s a nexus of city benefits, I would look at applying the living wage. When it was applied at the airport, it did not prove to be the worst-case scenario that people thought. We all need to be able to afford to live here, to afford to buy a home here without having to work two jobs. Our goal should be to have all wages rise in the city. I have brought together a coalition of business and labor heretofore never seen in Los Angeles. I can say to labor that if you don’t have business in this city, then your members will not be employed. And I can say to business that if you have workers living in poverty, that won’t help either.
The 12-2 permit streamlining program – going from 12 agencies having to sign off on a project to just two – ultimately went nowhere as it got caught up in turf battles among city bureaucrats. Would you try again with 12-2 permit streamlining?
Absolutely. This is about having a city that whether you are a small business or a company with a big project, you should get the same service from the city. I’ve had restaurant owners tell me, “All I want is to deal with the same inspector tomorrow as I had today.” For me, this is about having a one-stop shop, where everything is in one place. But it’s also about holding department heads accountable.
Do you favor the Hollywood Millennium project the way it’s currently proposed, with two towers of at least 500 feet surrounding the Capitol Records building?
There are many good transit-oriented components to that project. But I do have concerns with the height of the towers and I’m going to express my concerns to the owners.
Are there industries that deserve favorable treatment from the city? If so, which industries?
First and foremost, the entertainment industry – not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera and all the ancillary services associated with it, as well as all the new technology coming in. I also look at our Clean Tech Corridor and at our Silicon Beach. We need to concentrate on tech incubators. We also have an opportunity to grow our fashion industry downtown, Designed in L.A. I want to work every single day to be the jobs czar for the city of Los Angeles. I want to create technology zones or manufacturing zones – not enterprise zones, but where we set up a fund and use that to recruit businesses to come here.
The city has given major incentive packages to electric vehicle makers BYD and Coda, as well as the owner of the venue for Cirque du Soleil. Those packages haven’t met expectations. Next time someone comes to the city wanting similar incentives, would you favor giving them those incentives?
We have to do our due diligence and we have to be smart about where we make these investments. My opponent supported all three of these incentive packages. You have to look at the numbers. You cannot make sweeping generalizations here that all proposals from a certain industry should be supported. You have to look at what is the return on the investment and how do you protect the city.
Do you think the north runway at LAX should be moved 260 feet further north as currently proposed?
On the runway, there are three things that need to be addressed: safety, competitiveness and neighborhood concerns. I’m not going to say whether 260 feet is the correct amount: I want the head of the Federal Aviation Administration to come out and talk to us about what’s needed here, in the same room with the community and other stakeholders.
The BNSF rail yard is considered crucial to keep the Port of Los Angeles competitive. Yet it’s taken six years to get through the approval process. What steps would you take to move projects like this through more quickly?
Projects absolutely need to get approved more quickly. The port needs benchmarks and accountability, just like all city departments. You set the tone: “Here is what I want to have happen, here is when I want it done. If you don’t do it, there will be consequences.” If the department heads and the commissioners can’t get it done, then I will make choices about leadership. There are no consequences today and these issues are too important to wait.
Do you favor privatizing the operations of the Los Angeles Zoo?
I’ve said that all the options need to be on the table, to demonstrate how we both serve the public and make it cost-effective. The most recent proposal calls for privatizing the marketing aspect of the zoo. We spend less money marketing the zoo than the San Diego Zoo spends just marketing in Los Angeles.
During the last 20 years, L.A. city has seen the number of payroll jobs decrease even though the population has increased. Why do you think this has happened?
We have the highest unemployment of any major city in the region. It’s not just the economy; other cities in the region have been doing better in this same bad economy. Two major reasons for this: the difficulty of getting through our bureaucracy and the business tax. Businesses can go across the street to a city where they don’t pay business tax. And, if it takes you a year or more to get a permit, that’s costing you money and those jobs aren’t being created in our city. Finally, one more thing: education. Businesses don’t want to stay here if their employees are telling them they have to pay $30,000 a year to send their kids to private school because the school in their neighborhood is not up to the standards they expect.
What do you see as the importance of the private sector?
The private sector creates jobs. Without the private sector creating those jobs, we wouldn’t have people buying homes and we wouldn’t have property taxes. We would have no sales tax to help us pave our streets and pay for police and firefighters. It all depends on the private sector. The public sector should not be the largest employer in Los Angeles. We need people who get educated here say they are going to stay here because this is where the jobs and the opportunities are. It’s incumbent on the city government and the mayor to make sure that they know the importance of the private sector and that we want businesses to come here and we will do what it takes to recruit and retain them. Unless we step up and do more, we’re going to see our unemployment rate continue to go up. So it’s all linked to the private sector.