Op-Ed:  What to expect in 2015

What to expect in 2015? The Op-Ed section calls on a range of experts to weigh in with their predictions.
What to expect in 2015? The Op-Ed section calls on a range of experts to weigh in with their predictions.
(Pete Ryan / For The Times)
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Forecasts for the year from 13 experts on technology, culture, politics and the economy.

Millennials’ new rules

By Jean Twenge

This is a watershed year for American generations: The oldest baby boomers are turning 70, the oldest GenXers nearing 50, and millennials — in their 20s and 30s — now represent one-third of the workforce.


Millennials stand out. In surveys given to young people for decades, their responses reveal a singularly individualistic outlook. We see this not just in their narcissistic selfies, but also in their general belief that everyone should do what they want to do. With millennials leading the way, 2015 will be the year when the rules of the past disappear — for better or worse. Marijuana legalization and transgender rights will expand, and religion, marriage, and overt prejudice will continue to fade. Pets will increasingly replace children as millennials face declining wages and delay entering adulthood longer than ever.

But there is hope: With the economy coming back and boomers retiring, businesses will finally get serious about hiring millennials in 2015. The most successful companies will offer flexible schedules, value work-life balance, and provide feedback and promotions at a faster pace. Fail to please a millennial at work, and he or she will quit. The old rules don’t apply.

Jean M. Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University, is the author of “Generation Me” and co-author of “The Narcissism Epidemic.”


Work beyond ‘full-time’

By Patty McCord

Rigid corporate hierarchies will be replaced by smaller, collaborative, cross-functional work teams. With more ownership, fewer barriers and less approval required, teams can move quickly. And with new technology and data, they can share knowledge in real time.


For employees this means a shift toward looking for projects and products to attach oneself to, not long-term careers at one company. We will think beyond “full-time employees” and consider the other forms that work might take.

We’ll continue to see a focus on getting more women in business leadership.

Finally, one can only hope that 2015 will see the death of the “annual performance review.” These bloated, over-engineered, mandatory rituals are a waste of time, are hated by everyone and actually do nothing to foster high performance.

Patty McCord is a leadership and corporate culture consultant and was chief talent officer at Netflix from its inception through 2012.


Economic momentum

By Jordan Levine

California was home to a robust expansion in 2014, and the current economic forecast suggests 2015 will be even better. Jobs will continue to expand 2.5% to 3% over the year, while the population will expand in the 0.8% to 1.0% range. Housing construction will remain a driver of growth, though there won’t be enough of it to alleviate the housing shortage we still face.


The state outpaced the nation on jobs last year, adding 12.6% of the jobs created nationwide. Venture capital investment raised by California firms was also up more than 70%. Income and spending are growing, the mortgage markets are loosening and tourism is booming. The state even managed to attract more high-wage residents than it lost to migration.

Not only are our current indicators faring well, forward momentum is building.

Jordan Levine is an economist and director of economic research at Beacon Economics.


It’s all over but the ruling

By Kenji Yoshino

Perhaps as early as its conference Jan. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether to take up the issue of marriage equality. So far, the high court has taken an incremental approach — in 2013, it avoided making a nationwide ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage on procedural grounds. Last October, it denied seven petitions to review appellate court decisions that overturned state bans on same-sex marriage. But in November, a federal appellate court upheld marriage bans in four states, creating a division among the appellate courts that ensures Supreme Court review. The only question is whether it will do so this year or next.

The court’s cautious path mirrors its approach to interracial marriage. In 1955, the court dodged making a ruling, and it waited until 1967 to invalidate bans on interracial marriage nationwide in Loving vs. Virginia. Most scholars understand the delay as motivated by practical concerns: The court is generally unwilling to flip a majority of states on a major social issue.


The number of states allowing same-sex marriage (35) now surpasses the number that allowed interracial marriage (34) when the court decided Loving. In 2014, the nation reached a tipping point; in 2015, the court can finish the job.

Kenji Yoshino is a professor of constitutional law at New York University School of Law.


Congress with a dual-personality

By Doyle McManus

The Congress that convenes in January will be the first since 2006 with Republican majorities in both houses, and the first GOP-controlled Congress since the tea party pushed the party further right. So will the next two years see more polarization or more bipartisan compromise? Both.

Congress is likely to have something of a dual personality. The new Republican majorities will be solidly conservative and fervently opposed to President Obama. There will be furious partisan scraps over immigration and environmental regulation.


But the GOP leaders have an overriding strategic goal: demonstrate to voters that they can break the Washington gridlock, pass some laws and solve problems. That may require winning support from Democrats and negotiating with Obama, who still has the power of the veto. Tax reform, trade agreements and infrastructure spending are areas on which bipartisan action is possible. After all, both parties want to go into 2016 claiming that they made government work.

Doyle McManus is a political columnist for the Los Angeles Times.


Unexpected urban spaces

By Melani Smith

Los Angeles is extremely dynamic, and often the outgrowth of such rapid change is tension. We will need patience in the coming year as we talk through our big city issues — modern and ancient — which aren’t just going to go away. How do we find space for “your” bike lane or wide sidewalk on “my” commuting street?

Despite such quarrels, we might all agree in 2015 that Los Angeles needs more public places for people to come together and relax. Increasingly, we will discover and humanize unexpected spaces: over or under freeways; on bridges or parts of roadways; on rooftops, or the sides of buildings; along our long-forgotten river. By greening our urban environment, and improving our health and self image, these new kinds of places can sustain us all.


Melani Smith is director of planning and urban design at Meléndrez, which is now designing Space134, a park planned over the 134 freeway in downtown Glendale.


Considered consumerism

By Karen Hofmann

Last year saw the continued rise of “maker culture” with the proliferation of 3-D printing, online retail boutiques and crowd-funding platforms that enable designers to sell their wares direct to the consumer. Consumers increasingly appreciate knowing where products come from, how they are made, who made them and why — as well as what the company that made the products stands for.

This “considered consumerism” — a desire to invest in products that are sustainable, socially responsible and locally made — will come to the fore in 2015. I see a growing number of Art Center graduates producing highly crafted products and retail experiences reflecting this trend, including Killspencer’s leather goods studio in Silver Lake, Cora Neil’s Kickstarter-funded Hedge hanging planters, and Wakako Takagi’s Baum-kuchen shop-studio in Glassell Park. For these designers, it’s not just about form and function. They connect with consumers by expressing the story of why something is made and infusing their products with soul.

Karen Hofmann is the chair of the product design department at Art Center College of Design.



A fairer food landscape

By Evan Kleiman

Some of us live in a bubble where food is exquisitely sourced, thoughtfully prepared and pondered ad nauseam. Outside that bubble, issues are coming to a head. Scarce resources, notably water and oil, are used without sufficient regulation to produce a glut of often not-nutritious food. Food is so carelessly valued that an estimated 50% of it is wasted from farm to table. Unconscionable.

As the debates around labor, minimum wage and food service jobs intensify, you will see the influencers inside the bubble start to take action, informed by conversations with food justice activists. Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, for instance, are about to launch Loco’l in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, which will produce healthier food at the same price point as fast food. It’s just one project that smartly reimagines the food landscape.

Evan Kleiman is a chef, food scholar, and the host of “Good Food” on KCRW-FM (89.9).


Ending the UC budget battle


By Robert J. Birgeneau

In 2015, Sacramento politicians will continue to grandstand, and the governor will continue to grouse, but eventually we will end up with a budget for the University of California that will preserve both access and excellence. The essential elements:

  • All UC campuses will adopt the Berkeley Middle Class Access Plan, which means that only California students whose families earn more than $150,000 annually will ever have to pay any tuition increase. Even for those that do, the increase would be only about $400, on average.
  • UC will continue to guarantee that no qualified Californian will be denied a place on one of its campuses.
  • UC President Janet Napolitano will scale back the annual tuition increase for all students, Californian and otherwise, to 3% — just enough to cover the negotiated union salary increases.
  • The state will finally start to pay its fair share of the UC workers’ pensions as it already does for community colleges and Cal State.
  • Gov. Jerry Brown will initially refuse to pay the 4% increase in state funding he promised if UC kept tuition flat, but he will ultimately compromise.

Robert J. Birgeneau is the chancellor emeritus of UC Berkeley and a professor of public policy, physics, and material science and engineering.


Life in instant replay

By Barry Petchesky

Whatever happens in sports in 2015, you will see it. The confluence of technology, access and savvy fans means no meaningful moment on or off the field won’t be filmed, disseminated at warp speed, then digested and redigested on social media. Who needs a stadium or sports bar? We’re all invited to this communal panopticon.


The trend is bad for naughty athletes but wonderful for sports fans. No longer do we sit on our couch to watch a game; we watch every game, with a helpful host switching us around, sparing us from a dull moment. We no longer attend a game just to watch it; teams are rushing to rig stadiums and arenas with Wi-Fi so that fans will be able to call up replays on demand or check in on other games. In 2015, the number of choices and opportunities for customization will be overwhelming. Everything will be shared, and no fan will be limited by time or distance. We’ll see it all.

Barry Petchesky is the news editor at Deadspin.


Cord cutters’ paradise

By Dana Brunetti

Cord-cutting is really going to ramp up in 2015, with people canceling their cable and DirecTV and going a la carte however they can. A year or two ago, people didn’t know how to stream Netflix in their homes, yet now many are using Netflix as if it were another channel on the dial. I believe we are going to be seeing more of that, some of which will come from sources we haven’t even thought of, but are actual networks — such as Facebook and Twitter or Sony’s PlayStation Network. Those will begin to become our new “channels.”

TV networks are already headed this way with services such as HBO GO that stream video directly to your device. Movie studios — especially for independent and mid-budget movies — are going to do more streaming of new releases. “The Interview,” which admittedly was an unusual circumstance, has to be an eye-opener to studios that they are leaving money on the table based on its $15-million dollar opening weekend.


Dana Brunetti is president of Trigger Street Productions and a producer.


Technology: Say hi to AI

By Gil Elbaz

In the 2014 movie “Boyhood,” the protagonist finds it creepy that his college uses predictive computer programs to match roommates. His mom is much more pragmatic, responding, “Well, I bet you’ll have a great roommate.” The scene neatly captures where we are as a society on our views of artificial intelligence.

Machine-based predictive reasoning is mainly hidden away from consumers. For example, AI systems help physicians make better treatment decisions and oil companies drill more effectively. In research labs, machines grade essays, narrate videos and write stories. But as a society we don’t yet appreciate this. The dominant narrative is: “An army of killer robots are invading our privacy and may soon invade our cities.”

This year, I believe a mobile app will spark a breakthrough change in this perception. The smartphone already has replaced dozens of devices that we once used for communication, music, photography, and more. Yet, not many of us have had a mobile experience where our first reaction was absolute wonder: “How the fudge did it figure that out?”


This will change in 2015, when AI and predictive data technologies touch the consumer in such a human way that fear turns into fascination.

Gil Elbaz is the founder and CEO of Factual, a location data platform that enables mobile personalization.


A water wake-up call

By Dan Cayan

Everyone wants to know: Will this drought finally end?

Over nearly two decades, especially the last three years, the winter North Pacific storm track has been lean; since 1999, much of California has built up a deficit that amounts to a loss of two years’ worth of normal precipitation. Only a handful of years have ever registered enough precipitation to reverse a shortfall like this. Our recent storms will help, of course, but complete recovery is unlikely this year.

This drought is emblematic of California’s highly volatile winter precipitation regime. We are unusually dependent upon extremely wet days to deliver a major fraction of our water supply. We use stored water in reservoirs, snowpack and underground aquifers to carry us through. But lately, this system isn’t keeping up. The extremely warm winter and spring of 2014 disproportionately reduced California’s mountain snowpack, and we have drawn down our aquifers to alarming levels.


In fact, that warm weather is a harbinger of California’s future. Within the next few decades, global changes probably will leave us with chronically depleted spring snowpacks and summers that get hotter earlier. A sure bet for the year to come is more attention on conservation, better information and forecasts and more scrambling by water agencies to improve water systems and planning.

Dan Cayan is a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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