Newsletter

California Inc.: Are higher gas taxes on the way to fix our crumbling roads?

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

Here's a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Stocks ended the quarter Friday with sluggish trading, but it was still the best quarterly performance of the Standard & Poor's 500 index since the fourth quarter of 2015 and the best for the Nasdaq composite since the end of 2013. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that personal spending rose just 0.1% in February, below economists expectations. Still, the economy is chugging along and analysts expect solid first-quarter earnings.

LOOKING AHEAD

Ad people: Advertising professionals are gathering in Los Angeles for Transformation 2017, one of the industry’s biggest conferences. The gathering, which began with preliminary events Sunday, will run through Wednesday at the J.W. Marriott L.A. Live. Among the speakers will be Ben Silbermann, chief executive of Pinterest; Lilian Tomovich, chief marketing officer for MGM Resorts; and James Cooper, editorial director of AdWeek.

Early vote: Tuesday is election day for 24 candidates vying to replace Xavier Becerra in the 34th Congressional District, which includes Highland Park and MacArthur Park. Becerra vacated the office to become California’s attorney general. Among key issues have been affordable housing, legalizing street vendors and campaign finance reform. If no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face a runoff June 6.

Catch a ride: The last Southland airport to bar pick-ups by ride-hailing services, Long Beach Airport, is changing its policy. Under the pilot program, which begins Wednesday, Uber and Lyft will pay Long Beach $3 a trip to pick up passengers. Once the pilot program of at least six months is completed, the Long Beach City Council will consider permanently allowing the arrangement.

Taxes for roads: Thursday is the deadline for legislators to vote on a 12-cent-per-gallon increase in gas excise taxes and a new vehicle fee aimed at generating more than $5 billion annually for repairing California's crumbling streets, highways and bridges. Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to muster the two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature needed to approve new revenues, with some of it going to mass transit.

Working for a living: On Friday, the Labor Department will release the March jobs report. Analysts expect it to show national job growth slowed to a still-solid 185,000 positions, while the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.6%. At the state level, California has experienced eight consecutive months of job growth. Over the last 12 months, through February, the state has added 315,800 jobs, an increase of 1.9%. That compares with a 1.6% increase in the nation as a whole.

THE AGENDA

Since its inception nearly 40 years ago, the F/A-18 fighter family has come to dominate Navy carrier decks — and supported a base of more than 200 military contractors in Southern California. With a stealthy replacement rolling off assembly lines, though, its days seemed to be numbered. Now, thanks to an unexpected lift from the Trump administration, the latest version of the fighter jet could catch a second wind.

STORY LINES

Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

Recycling rockets: Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched and landed a first-stage rocket booster that had previously flown — a milestone that could signal a new era of low-cost space transportation. The successful launch of the commercial communications satellite on the Falcon 9 rocket could lower launch costs as much as 30%, if SpaceX is able to make the procedure routine. Musk joked that he took two boxes of Xanax before Thursday’s launch and felt “calmer than I should have been.”

Real estate loss: A property in one of Los Angeles’ most coveted neighborhoods is at the center of legal proceedings involving actor Dustin Hoffman and Jeffrey Yohai, a real estate developer who is the son-in-law of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. “The Graduate” actor and his son Jacob Hoffman invested $3 million with Yohai in a real estate deal that has gone sour, a Times investigation found.

TV execs leave: The top two programming executives at television channel BET abruptly stepped down last week, adding to the management turnover at owner Viacom Inc. BET’s head of programming, Stephen Hill, said he would exit after 18 years at BET and 22 years at Viacom. BET’s head of original programming, Zola Mashariki, who joined Viacom from Fox in 2015, also is departing. BET has been struggling to maintain its cultural edge and viewers amid a proliferation of programming options.

Bank payout: Wells Fargo & Co. agreed to pay $110 million to settle a class-action lawsuit, a deal that could also put to rest 11 other suits linked to revelations that the bank opened millions of accounts customers didn’t authorize. The settlement, if approved by a San Francisco federal judge, would provide payouts to all Wells Fargo customers who say they have been victims of the bank’s bad practices since 2009. But lawyers behind some of the other suits are hoping to kill the deal and push for a bigger payout.

Oops: An employee of Walt Disney Co. reportedly launched plans to build Disney-themed parks in China — and the company didn’t know anything about it. Meng Dekai signed deals with several high-ranking Chinese officials to build the parks, according to an online Chinese daily newspaper. Altogether, the deals involved 2,000 acres of land and $4.3 billion of investment. Dekai resigned last week, underscoring the pitfalls foreign companies face operating in the world’s second-largest economy.

WHAT WE’RE READING

And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

Robocars: A Silicon Valley company called Zoox is valued at $1.55 billion and a real player in the emerging driverless car industry, but many people have not even heard of it, IEEE Spectrum reports. “It remains one of the lowest-profile companies in the Valley, shunning press coverage and sharing nothing more than a stylized infinity logo on its website.”

Element of power: Three hours northwest of Las Vegas, mining companies are in a Gold Rush-like frenzy, Bloomberg reports. Only this time the object of desire is lithium, the element that helps power smartphone, laptops and electric cars. “Whoever can figure out the extraction and chemistry required to get lithium out of the ground and into batteries stands to capture a significant share of the market.”

Software black market: Eastern European hackers are a new friend of American farmers, who they turn to help keep their equipment running, Motherboard reports. “Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform ‘unauthorized’ repair on farm equipment.”

Where’s Bob Seger?: In an age where music is increasingly shared only in a digital format, Bob Seger is a puzzling outlier who seems content to let his musical legacy dwindle, NPR says. “Seger is one of the few remaining digital holdouts — there's nothing beyond the odd Christmas tune available on subscription services” and little more on iTunes.

SPARE CHANGE

The thought of 1970s radio stalwart Bob Seger fading into some sort of digital oblivion got us thinking about what are our favorite songs from the Motor City rocker. Of course, there’s “Night Moves,” perhaps his signature song, and “Old Time Rock & Roll” (Tom Cruise danced to it in his underwear) and the contemplative “Turn the Page.” But a favorite around here is that reminiscent song of years gone by, “Main Street.” Thanks, YouTube.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. This week’s newsletter was put together by researcher Scott J. Wilson, with a helping hand from Assistant Business Editor and Bob Seger fan Laurence Darmiento. David Lazarus was on vacation and will return next week.

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