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Running on E

February 18, 2009 |  7:43 pm

englander, greig smith, Gary Toebben, business, incentives, city hall, los angeles, opinion l.a., Community Redevelopment Agency, election, charter amendment e I'm stuck on E, the charter amendment on the March 3 city ballot that would allow the city to offer incentives to businesses to locate in Los Angeles.

Presented as part of Councilman Greig Smith's package of programs to improve the Los Angeles business climate, it makes a certain amount of sense. If you missed that discussion last week, you can find the relevant portion here, as outlined by Smith's chief of staff, Mitch Englander:

  "The larger plan."

But voters aren't being asked to adopt the larger plan or in fact any of the safeguards that Smith, Englander and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce's president and CEO, Gary Toebben, outlined for us (read and listen here in our previous post). Here's Smith's full L.A. LEAP plan, which includes a to-do list of 13 items, 12 of which are City Council motions, and the last of which is Charter Amendment E.

The proponents do a great job of arguing why Los Angeles needs a sort of "rate card," so that a new city department would be in a position to offer a standard set of incentives to businesses based on what they can bring to the city, and not based on their personal or political relationships with individual City Council members. But again, that's all part of the proponents' explanation and not part of their ballot measure, which is limited to these words:

"Should the charter of the City of Los Angeles be amended to clearly express the authority of the City of Los Angeles to provide incentives to businesses that will encourage economic development and provide public benefits to the City of Los Angeles and its residents?"

It's the crux of the problem the Times editorial board must grapple with when deciding to endorse in favor of, or in opposition to, Charter Amendment E. Would the ballot measure make city deals more transparent, or would it just cede to City Hall sweeping new power to make deals? After all, there is no guarantee that the council will adopt Smith's other motions.

To broaden the discussion, we are conducting an ongoing "Dust-Up" between Smith and measure opponent Walter Moore, a mayoral candidate (Moore is challenging Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who signed the ballot argument in favor of the measure). Find the Dust-Up in progress here, with the first day's point-counterpoint between Smith and Moore. Reluctant to click through? Here's a teaser from Smith:

"No one is asking for a blank check. The criteria for the incentives Measure E would authorize would be discussed in public meetings of the City Council's Jobs, Business Growth and Tax Reform Committee, which I chair."

And one from Moore:

"You and your colleagues at City Hall have been giving hundreds of millions of our tax dollars, year after year, to politically connected companies through the Community Redevelopment Agency. The results? As you yourself admit, employers have been fleeing our city in droves. This is nature's gentle way of saying, 'It's not working. Enough with the subsidies.' The invisible hand of the free market keeps slapping you in the face, yet you won't wake up."

Meanwhile, outside the Dust-Up, the chamber's Gary Toebben offers this comment:

"Other states are actively trying to poach business from California.  Measure E will make it possible to develop strategies and incentives to keep those companies in our state.  Right now we are fighting with both hands tied behind our back.  I hope the voters will give us the opportunity to level the playing field and compete for jobs."

*Photo: Scott Harrison / Los Angeles Times

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