California Inc.: With new state rules, when's the best time to go solar?

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.

Investors today will be continuing to digest Friday’s jobs numbers — the usual mixed bag of good news and wish-it-were-better news The unemployment rate has dropped to 4.9%, and wages are firming. However, only 151,000 new jobs were added in January, well below more robust numbers in December and November.


Coastal protections: The future of the California Coastal Commission, the powerful land-use agency that oversees development along the state’s 1,000-mile shore, could be decided in a public meeting Wednesday at Morro Bay. Members of the commission have moved to fire its executive director, Charles Lester, touching off concerns that pro-development forces are trying to undermine coastal protections. Lester declined to resign, as some panel members urged, opting to have his record debated at Wednesday’s hearing.

Monetary policy: Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen will go to Capitol Hill to deliver the Fed’s semi-annual monetary policy report, appearing Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee and then on Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee. She will make her first public comments since global financial markets turned tumultuous at the start of the year and could indicate whether the Fed will delay future increases of a key interest rate.

Online TV: YouTube, the world’s biggest online video platform, will officially enter the paid original-content business Wednesday when it premieres the first four titles produced for its new subscription service, YouTube Red. Included in the launch are “Dance Camp,” a musical teen drama; “Scare PewDiePie,” starring YouTube sensation Felix Kjellberg; “A Trip to Unicorn Island,” a documentary by another wildly popular YouTube star, Lilly Singh; and “Lazer Team,” a sci-fi comedy.

Earnings reports: Two high-profile California companies — Tesla and Twitter — will announce their earnings Wednesday. With deliveries of the highly anticipated Model X slowed by production difficulties, and production of the even more highly anticipated Model 3 also delayed, analysts are wondering how long Tesla’s stock price can hold up. Twitter, meanwhile, has had a year of turnover, losing eight of the 13 executives who presented at the company’s analyst day last year.

Register bids: Friday is the deadline for interested buyers to submit initial bids for the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, both owned by bankrupt publisher Freedom Communications. Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times, and Digital First Media, which owns the L.A. Daily News, have expressed interest in acquiring Freedom’s newspapers. So has a group of Freedom insiders backed by Orange County developer Mike Harrah.


Monday’s Business section shines a light on rooftop solar power. With new rules unveiled by California regulators, do you buy a solar system now or later? Is a lease better than purchasing? How about a loan? As with many rapidly developing technologies, turning to the sun for electrons requires a personal adopt-when-ready approach that fits your particular economic situation.


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

Musical chairs: Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman was elected chairman of the media giant’s board, succeeding his 92-year-old mentor, the ailing Sumner Redstone. Dauman, 61, will now serve as executive chairman and chief executive. But he has a powerful detractor: Shari Redstone, the 61-year-old daughter of the mogul, who also serves as vice chair of the company. She cast the only “no” vote against Dauman. A day earlier, CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves was elected to succeed Redstone as chairman of the separately traded network the media mogul also controls.

Regulating the regulators: State legislators are calling for a major overhaul of California’s utilities regulator by striking it from the state constitution and reassigning its sprawling portfolio following a series of controversies, including the natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) said his measure would divvy up the California Public Utilities Commission’s oversight of myriad companies and utilities to several other agencies.

Payday loan profits: The University of California makes money when American workers become trapped in endless cycles of high-interest debt. That’s because the university has invested millions of dollars in an investment fund that owns one of the country’s largest payday lenders, ACE Cash Express. In 2014, ACE agreed to pay $10 million to settle federal allegations that the company deliberately tried to ensnare consumers in perpetual debt. A UC spokesman said even though the university has a policy of socially responsible investment, there are no plans to divest from the payday-lending-related fund.

Demand pricing: Universal Studios Hollywood is putting a price tag on the demand for fun. The theme park is anticipating huge crowds for the April 7 opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you want to be one of the first to experience it, be prepared to pay more than if you want to go, say, on a slow Tuesday in September. So-called demand, or variable, pricing is nothing new to airlines and hotels. They have long charged higher prices on holidays and during popular seasons. Universal is the first major U.S. theme park to embrace demand pricing, though experts say consumers should expect more to follow.

Largest shareholder: Chicago entrepreneur Michael Ferro is investing $44.4 million in Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Publishing, making him the company’s largest shareholder and infusing cash that could bolster a planned bid for the Orange County Register. Ferro’s Merrick Media bought 5.22 million newly issued shares of Tribune Publishing stock, giving him a 16.6% stake in the company, which also owns the San Diego Union-Tribune. The influx of cash comes as Tribune prepares to bid for the Orange County Register, Riverside Press-Enterprise and other assets of bankrupt Freedom Communications.


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

Hot date: The California Sunday Magazine swipes right on Tinder. Previously ousted founder Sean Rad is now back in charge of the dating/hookup site. “Now,” the magazine asks, “can he — and his company — grow up?”

Patch redux: Remember Patch, AOL’s experiment with hyperlocal online news? As the Wall Street Journal tells it, turnaround specialist Hale Global took over and guess what? The “hard reset” has resulted in higher traffic and profit.

Cluck: As Seinfeld might say, “What’s the deal with companies that don’t go public?” According to Business Insider, venture capitalist Fred Wilson is outraged that Uber is still privately held. “Man up!” he says. “Don’t be chicken!”

Serious static: Bloomberg says iHeartMedia, the nation’s largest radio station operator, is trying to pare down debt it was saddled with in a 2008 acquisition. The private equity deal didn’t anticipate the explosion of streaming services that have cut into radio audiences.

Unfriendly skies: The Aviation Herald relates a tale of woe involving a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. It had to be diverted to Salt Lake City because of “bad behavior” among flight attendants.


They just don’t make flight attendants like they used to. Case in point.

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