Newsletter: California Inc.: Southern California theme park prices keep soaring

Guardians of the Galaxy
Theme park prices are outpacing costs of other forms of entertainment. Park operators say the hikes reflect strong demand and new attractions, such as the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride at Disneyland.
(Getty Images)

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.

While much of Monday’s market buzz will likely continue to center on Snap, which went public Thursday, let’s not overlook that California’s economy started 2017 on a strong note, with employers in January adding 9,700 jobs and the jobless rate dropping to 5.1%. The Golden State keeps outpacing the national economy in job growth, adding jobs at a year-over-year rate of 2%, compared with the national rate of 1.6%.



Election day: Los Angeles voters will go to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots on various issues with economic implications. Getting lots of attention is Measure S, which would put new restrictions on the construction of housing, shops and offices. Also on the ballot is Measure M, which would direct the city to develop rules covering the emerging medical and recreational marijuana industry, and Measure P, which would allow the Port of L.A. to lease out property for up to 66 years.

Safe water: A state panel will discuss how to better provide safe drinking water to disadvantaged communities at a public meeting Tuesday in Sacramento. The California Board of Food and Agriculture event will consider the role of farmers and ranchers in protecting groundwater supplies. Panelists will include Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center, Wade Crowfoot of the Water Foundation and Cindy Tuck of Association of California Water Agencies.

Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney Co. shareholders will convene in Denver on Wednesday for the company’s annual meeting. Investors will be asked to elect 11 members of the company’s board of directors and consider two shareholder proposals. The board could also grant a contract extension for CEO Robert Iger, who is widely expected to remain in the job after his current contract ends in June 2018. Audio of the meeting will be broadcast live on the Disney investor website.

Hollywood and China: The USC U.S.-China Institute will present a talk Thursday by Aynne Kokas, author of the new book “Hollywood Made in China.” The book offers an in-depth look at China’s growing role in the global media industries and how it is shaping Hollywood today. The talk begins at 4 p.m. at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Kokas is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.


Employment picture: On Friday, the Labor Department will release the February jobs report. Analysts expect it to show job growth has slowed to 175,000 net new jobs and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7%. The U.S. economy has been giving off mixed signals. The economy overall grew at a tepid annual rate of 1.9% in the fourth quarter of last year, but some economists expect that growth to increase to 2.2% or more this year.


Monday’s Business section is an E-ticket ride (look it up, boys and girls) on theme-park prices. Spoiler alert: They’re going up. Prices are rising for most forms of entertainment, including movies, concerts and sporting events. But the cost of a theme park ticket has jumped much more than that of other pastimes over the last decade, with Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood pushing through price hikes last month. Theme park operators say the increases come in response to strong demand and reflect the millions of dollars spent over the years on new high-tech attractions.


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

Snapchat IPO: Snap Inc., parent of the disappearing-message app, had a smash stock market debut that saw shares pop 44% on the first day of trading. That turned its young founders — Bobby Murphy, 28, and Evan Spiegel, 26 — into billionaires, at least on paper. But it wasn’t champagne all around. Venice residents protested, saying the company is gobbling up real estate and altering the community’s funky vibe.

Oscar flub: The giant accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers was responsible for that colossal mistake at the Academy Awards when the award for best picture went (briefly) to “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight.” Public relations experts say the company’s reputation can bounce back, but the two accountants involved in the fiasco won’t be working at the Oscars anymore.

Hospital safety: After a consumer group found holes in California’s hospital inspection program, the state Department of Public Health said it will take steps to investigate facilities with high rates of infection. Consumers Union, which had discovered that 131 California hospitals had not been inspected within the last five years, called the state’s response “an important first step” that still did not go far enough to protect the public.


Consumer privacy: It was only last October that the Federal Communications Commission approved an initiative that required broadband providers such as AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast to take new steps to secure customer data and notify them of privacy breaches. Last week, the FCC halted the rule. New FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the rule treated broadband providers unfairly.

Sorry about that: The head of Uber admitted he was wrong to berate a driver who had complained that the service’s fares were too low. After a video emerged that showed the encounter, Chief Executive Travis Kalanick apologized, saying he admits he needs “leadership help.” (Don’t we all?) “To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement,” Kalanick told Uber employees.


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

Scraping by: It’s tough to be a tech worker in the San Francisco Bay Area when you’re only making in the six figures, reports the Guardian. The high cost of living, fueled by Silicon Valley’s latest housing boom, is spurring complaints even from techies who rank among the highest 1% of earners in the country. “One Apple employee was recently living in a Santa Cruz garage, using a compost bucket as a toilet.”

Unseen adversary: When Bradley Cohen, a wealthy Los Angeles real-estate investor, was falsely accused of running a Ponzi scheme by someone hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet, he fought back. It was the start, reports the Wall Street Journal, of “a surreal, four-year odyssey through the dark alleys of the Internet, where he encountered a pistol-packing federal judge, a website offering fetish sex and a felon angry over some dead turtles.”

Secret weapon: An obscure branch of data analysis called psychometrics could have helped Donald Trump win the presidency, reports Motherboard. Trump hired a team to divide voters into personality types and to aim the campaign’s message differently to different groups. “It is an irony of history that Trump, who often grumbled about scientific research, used a highly scientific approach in his campaign.”

Rent-a-pet: Buying a dog on a payment plan? Read the fine print carefully, or you could end up paying a lot more than you expected, reports Bloomberg. Buyers of high-priced dogs are unwittingly signing long-term lease contracts that come with interest rates ranging from about 36% to 170% on an annualized basis. Shock No. 2 comes when the pet lovers discover their dog isn’t really theirs — they’re only leasing it.



That rent-a-pet story raises the question: Best live-action movie or TV show about critters? Some obvious star players include Rin Tin Tin, Gentle Ben, Flipper and, of course, Lassie. My list, however, would feature this one, this one and, most certainly, this one.

For the latest money news, go to 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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