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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Smith Record Backs Business

Twelfth District L.A. City Councilman Greig Smith is a study in contrasts. A Republican representing the largely residential communities of the northwest Valley, he is among the few ardently pro-business members on the mostly labor-friendly L.A. City Council. Now in his second term after running unopposed last month, he’s made waves on the influential Budget and Ad-Hoc Business Tax Reform committees and pushed forward legislation that brings city council sessions to the Van Nuys Civic Center. He’s also turned into something of a fiscal conservative, exemplified by his lone dissenting vote last summer against a popular plan to increase trash fees to pay for additional police officers a surprise given the fact Smith himself serves as a reserve police officer. But Smith, who came to the Valley in the 1970s to open a formal wear business, has also distinguished himself as a staunch supporter of the environment, authoring a 20-year plan to address waste disposal and boost recycling. In the first of ongoing interviews with city council members about business in the Valley, Smith talked frankly about the Valley’s business climate, what the city council is doing right and his plans for a second term in City Hall. Q: When you were elected in 2003, what was the city doing wrong to attract and retain business? A: There was a long history. You go back to the auto industry, the banking industry, which the city tried to put extensive taxes on. We ended up losing them all. We have no Fortune 500 companies; we used to have dozens. We used to have lots of headquarters. We lost most, primarily because of our taxing structure. The mantra was “tax because they have to be here. This is L.A.” Well, no they don’t have to be here. And that’s why they left and left us with lots of empty buildings. Q: There’s also long been this sense that city bureaucracy is too cumbersome for new businesses. Is that the case? A: I think we always complain about what we know is here, because that’s what we see. But we’re a very big city; we have a lot of bureaucracy. I think we’re not the best, but we’re not the worst. Q: What are you doing to address that? A: About a year-and-a-half ago, we lost the L.A. Times, Washington Mutual, DeVry University. And I panicked. But we went out and made contacts with the business community that never existed. I asked them what are your problems and concerns. The thing that came up from all of them was finding qualified workers. What we did was keep holding these meetings and brought in Los Angeles Valley College, L.A. Unified, Cal State Northridge and had them work together. Everybody walked of out there excited. The education community found what we needed. We started that discussion process. Q: Have you helped businesses stay here? A: Yes, we’ve worked with a number. 3M, Cherokee helping with zoning variances, New Hampshire Ball Bearings Inc. And Pratt & Whitney, which is moving part of its facilities to DeSoto and Nordhoff. They have a big parcel of land. They’re moving about 3,000 employees and have a lot of issues we have to work out. We also worked with AirBus (the European aircraft manufacturer that last year announced plans to expand its supply base in the Valley). Q: That’s at the district level. City Council members are often seen as treating their districts as little kingdoms. How do you all work together for the entire city? A: That’s true. We do. Because we’re elected to serve the district. But generally, we have a congenial council. It showed on business tax reform. Q: That wasn’t the case with living wage. There’s a real fear it’s going to come to the Valley. What are you doing? A: Besides voting against it and leading the charge? This has always been intended to be just the nose under the tent. This will go citywide. Fortunately, it’s going to be stopped in court and they’re going to lose, quite frankly. That slows them down and hopefully stops it. Q: With this kind of climate, do you understand why a small business owner would move elsewhere to places like the Antelope Valley or Santa Clarita? A: Depends on the business. If you’re a service industry, no I wouldn’t, because you have the population here. As you look at the value of what you get, if you’re a manufacturing company, property taxes are virtually the same as in Santa Clarita. Business taxes are higher here, but electricity and water are half. So it depends on your industry. Q: If you had to open Greig’s Formal Wear today, would you still pick Northridge given the challenges small business owners face here? A: Yes, I think I would. The potential is great here. We have such a large population. I was in a service industry. There’s a very strong business community, very supportive business community. You have a very wealthy community here in the Valley, a community that supports business. I might do some things differently, but it would still be here.

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