Ron Kaye: The happiness factor

Depending on which side of the Great Divide you’re on, unions — especially public employee unions — should be abolished or the bankers and corporate CEOs should be locked up in jail and the keys thrown away.

Maybe we have been at war so long in Iraq and Afghanistan we’ve adopted the suicidal tendencies of Sunnis and Shias.

We can go on like this, bashing each other over the head and praying for some kind of economic miracle to save our cities, counties and state, until we’re down to the last teacher in the last open school and the last cop patrolling our streets.

It is the economy, stupid. It’s undergoing a structural change that will redefine the way we work and live. “Normal” isn’t coming back.

We don’t manufacture enough. We don’t generate enough good-paying jobs. We’re not going to shop our way to prosperity. The median price of a bungalow in the Greater San Fernando Valley region may not bounce back to $650,000 again for years, if ever.

The miracle we need to be praying for isn’t economic, it’s inside us.

Unions and bosses and ordinary citizens need to sit down at the table and begin a conversation about what are the core public services we need and how much we can afford to pay for them.

Gov. Jerry Brown has started that conversation with the state Legislature, proposing stiff cuts, short-term tax-hike extensions and abolishing Community Redevelopment Agencies to erase the state budget deficit of $25 billion that is crippling economic opportunity.

While a dysfunctional city like Los Angeles faces deficits of 10% of its operating budgets, even better-run cities like Burbank and Glendale are facing deficits of 6% to 8%, $8 million and $10 million, respectively.

Revenues to the cities are expected to decline again next year, even as the costs of pensions and benefits for public employees keep rising dramatically, and will continue to do so for many years.

It’s a no-win game for everyone. For all the talk about jobs, jobs, jobs, L.A. city and county have woeful records of job growth for the last 30 years — barely one new job for every three people added to the state population, one for every six in the county and, believe it or not, a net loss of 100,000 jobs despite an increase in population of 1 million in L.A.

Burbank and Glendale clearly have done better, thanks to luring customers with expanded retail and wooing entertainment companies from L.A. and elsewhere.

But L.A. is fighting with three-year tax holidays, interest-free loans, cash subsidies and reduced water and power rates to successfully steal a car dealership from Beverly Hills and medium-size firms from Santa Monica and Calabasas just in the last few weeks.

It’s a zero sum game. No new jobs are actually created. No new houses are sold, or cars or home furnishings.

Cities that are succeeding in the new economy — Portland, Des Moines and several others in the Midwest — are thinking and acting regionally and attracting new businesses and new jobs that stimulate the local economy, whether the direct impact of those businesses and jobs is in the major city or the suburbs.

The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. has put forward a similar countywide strategic plan focused on creating an educated workforce and business-friendly climate, modernizing the infrastructure, taking advantage of the technological and research strengths of the region and smart use and reuse of available land.

At its heart, the emphasis is on the quality of life in which we live and work — the happiness factor.

Many economists are coming to the same conclusion: the new prosperity needs to be measured by the quality of our lives, which means safe and healthy neighborhoods, good schools, reduced traffic congestion and so on.

City officials in Burbank and Glendale already are deep into planning how to deal with the steep budget cuts for the next fiscal year.

The questions residents need to be asking is whether those decisions will make your lives better in the long run — or worse.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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