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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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An Election That’s Not Over

Valley business interests certainly were among the big winners in the Nov. 4 election, though it’s not at all clear how permanent some of those victories will be. Among the top priorities was, of course, Proposition 1, the massive state water bond that Biz Fed, VICA and the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce backed because it is expected to allocate many millions toward the cleanup of our polluted groundwater basin. In a time of record drought, that was a slam-dunk victory – plain and simple. The groups also rallied behind defeating Propositions 45 and 46. However, the story there is a bit more complicated. Proposition 45 would have given the insurance commission the authority to regulate health insurance rates, while 46 would have raised the existing $250,000 cap on pain-and-suffering damages written into California’s landmark 1975 law that restricted medical malpractice cases. The insurance industry spent heavily to defeat both measures, but should the new insurance exchange set up in the state under Obamacare not prove effective in mitigating further rate increases, expect something like Prop 45 to rear its head again. Also, don’t be so sure that efforts to raise the cap on pain-and-suffering damage awards will fade away. Many believe raising the cap would be a gift to trial lawyers and lead to skyrocketing health insurance rates. Well, it almost certainly would lead to more lawsuits given there is evidence that the cap, never adjusted for inflation, makes it nearly impossible to file even egregious cases of malpractice when the patient is either a child, very old or simply doesn’t make any money. That’s because only wage earners can be awarded the kind of economic damages that make it worthwhile for attorneys to take on the often challenging cases. The sad stories of wronged patients and their families presented by proponents weren’t enough to sway voters, especially in an economy where wage increases are scarce. But in an OpEd in this issue, Consumer Watchdog, the main proponents of both propositions, promises it won’t stop fighting. So get ready for a few more rounds. • • • The Oct. 31 crash of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft was one of those tragic events you don’t forget. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury was killed and pilot Peter Siebold was injured, though he amazingly escaped death by managing to parachute out of a disintegrating craft at the edge of space. And no matter how Virgin’s Galactic’s billionaire owner Richard Branson wants to spin it, it was a setback for space tourism, which has been a substantial economic boost to the north Antelope Valley, home to the Mojave Air & Space Port where SpaceShip Two took off. The crash reminds me of the disasters that befell Apollo 13 in 1970, in which an exploding oxygen tank in space nearly killed the crew, and the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986 that did wipe out the crew. I’m old enough to remember both. Though Apollo 13 was only two flights removed from Neil Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon, the public had already started to take moon flights for granted. Challenger was the 25th flight of a space shuttle, a program that most had long considered safe. After both crashes, the public was reminded there was nothing routine about space flight, which by its very nature pushes man’s technology to the limits. So, I wonder, in an era of “adventure travel” in which amateurs perform deep dives and climb Mount Everest, will that reminder kill space tourism, at least for our generation? Our reporter Mark Madler spoke to one Valley ticketholder, businessman Edwin Sahakian, who said no way. Sahakian doesn’t want a refund and he doesn’t know of others who have signed up for Virgin Galactic flights who want them either. One report by entertainment trade publication Variety said 20 passengers have asked for refunds, but that’s out of 700 who signed up! I’m not going to question anybody’s desire to leave the bounds of earth’s gravity and float in space in a manner that has so far almost solely been reserved for professional astronauts. But at least they have been reminded of the grave dangers they face should they really get strapped into the first Virgin Galactic spacecraft to carry commercial passengers. It certainly will be the ultimate E-ticket ride. I’m just sure it’s one I will pass up, even if I could afford it. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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