Newsletter

California Inc.: L.A. event puts urban transportation in spotlight

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

I'm Business columnist David Lazarus, and here's a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

One story stood out for me: Uber says it will introduce flying taxis in Los Angeles by 2020. “We’re trying to work with cities in the early days who are interested in partnering to make it happen, while knowing that there will be pitfalls along the way,” says Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer. Pie meet sky.

LOOKING AHEAD

Solar panels: President Trump will be presented with a plan Monday to impose restrictions and tariffs on imports of the most popular photovoltaic generating panels used in the booming U.S. residential and utility-scale solar markets. The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent agency, has proposed the action after two international solar-panel producers with U.S. plants complained that they needed protection from low-cost imports.

Union organizing: A formal accusation of unfair labor practices against Palo Alto-based carmaker Tesla will go before an administrative law judge Tuesday in Oakland. The complaint was lodged by the National Labor Relations Board, which alleges that Tesla supervisors and security guards have improperly interfered with union-organizing activities. Tesla employees are not unionized, but the United Auto Workers has tried to organize the company's workers for years.

Getting around: LA CoMotion, a conference and festival focused on urban transportation, will take place in Los Angeles’ Arts District from Wednesday through Sunday. The first three days, aimed at policymakers and industry representatives, will be devoted to the “Cities in Motion” leadership conference. On Saturday and Sunday, the public is invited to Expo Festival, which will showcase autonomous vehicles, innovative bicycles and transit options.

Jobs report: On Friday, the state Employment Development Department releases October jobs data for California. National statistics, released earlier in the month, showed that employers added more than a quarter-million new jobs last month, with the country's jobless rate reaching a 17-year low of 4.1%. Still, wage gains are tepid. Over the last 12 months, average pay for U.S. workers has risen just 2.4%, about the same middling pace as over the last three years.

Cycles on show: The 2018 Progressive International Motorcycle Show, the West Coast’s largest power sports industry gathering, will convene Friday at the Long Beach Convention Center. The event will feature new products from most of the world’s largest manufacturers of two-wheeled vehicles, as well as displays from hundreds of parts, accessories and apparel companies. The show runs through Sunday. Admission is $16 for adults, free for kids under 12.

THE AGENDA

Republicans have repeatedly noted that it’s been more than 30 years since Congress enacted a major tax overhaul — and within the span of a couple of hours last week, they unintentionally demonstrated why. As a House committee prepared to pass one version of a tax bill Thursday, Republicans on a Senate panel unveiled their own legislation, which contained key differences. GOP leaders downplayed the disparities even though they presented hurdles in the rush to pass a tax overhaul this year.

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:

Crackle: Snap Inc’s stock fell sharply in response to the Venice company’s lackluster third-quarter financial results. Investors appear worried about sluggish growth prospects for the maker of the popular disappearing-photo app Snapchat. In response, CEO Evan Spiegel said Snap will retool its app to make it more welcoming to a broader audience. One of the longest-running complaints about Snapchat is that it’s simply confusing.

Harassment: More news from the alleged harassment front. In a move that stunned the industry, Sony Pictures confirmed that Kevin Spacey was being dropped from the completed film “All the Money in the World” amid allegations of past inappropriate behavior with minors. He’ll be replaced by Christopher Plummer in a quick re-shoot. Meanwhile, comedian Louis C.K.’s latest film was shelved as he faced his own accusations of bad behavior. “These stories are true,” he admitted in a statement.

CNN for sale? AT&T’s proposed $85-billion purchase of Time Warner Inc. is encountering stiff resistance from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is pressuring the companies to sell Time Warner’s news channel, CNN, to win approval of the deal. The opposition — which some analysts called “unprecedented” — threatens to scuttle a massive media deal and could trigger a titanic court battle if the Justice Department sues AT&T to block the takeover.

Retail woes: Macy’s Inc. plans to close its store at Los Angeles’ Westside Pavilion mall, as well as two others in California, the retail giant said, as it grapples with consumers’ increasing shift to online shopping. The closures, which include Macy’s stores at the Laguna Hills Mall in Orange County and the Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco, will occur early next year. It was not immediately known how many jobs would be affected.

Fox and Disney: Despite reports of a possible sale of 21st Century Fox’s movie and TV studios to Walt Disney Co., Fox Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch said his company is equipped to stay the course in a changing media landscape. He and his brother James, CEO of 21st Century Fox, said they would not comment on reports the company had engaged in discussions with Disney about selling its film and TV programming assets.

WHAT WE’RE READING

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

Not so rich: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is not nearly as rich as he claims, reports Forbes. After an analysis of Ross’ finances, the magazine says that $2 billion the Trump Cabinet member claims to have squirreled away in a trust fund simply doesn’t exist. It is, Forbes says, “the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers” told by Ross.

Family business: A mysterious family named the Guptas have developed a stranglehold on business and government in South Africa, reports Bloomberg. “The family has been accused by activists and opposition politicians of stacking the leadership of powerful state companies, rigging bids in favor of suppliers it controls, and even helping orchestrate a planned $70-billion nuclear-power deal with Russia, for which it could supply vast quantities of uranium.”

Tardy Tesla: At Cheatsheet.com, writer Eric Schaal explains why he’s giving up on his reservation to buy a Tesla Model 3. He put down $1,000 in 2016 to be among the first to get to buy the electric vehicle when it became available. But with delays pushing back delivery of his Model 3 to mid-2018, Schaal says, “more and more, the entire vehicle launch is sounding like a publicity stunt.”

Robo-cars: Cities and states across the U.S. are rushing to build infrastructure for self-driving cars, says the Wall Street Journal. Governments are partnering with car companies to build testing facilities for autonomous vehicles. “Even after the first driverless cars are available to the public — as soon as 2020, by some projections — cities see the projects as long-term investments as leaders in the field will still need to test equipment and innovations.”

SPARE CHANGE

Since today's newsletter opened with flying taxis and closed with robot cars, it seems clear that some meditation is required on future transit. Clearly (and unfortunately) this isn’t our future. Nor is this, I feel safe in saying. And I’m pretty sure not this either. So what can we really expect? I’m figuring it’s this.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I'll see you in the Business section.

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