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Monday, Aug 15, 2022
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Ikea and the Sierra Snowpack

When you read our front page story on the global warming lawsuit that’s been filed against the planned Burbank Ikea by a Woodland Hills environmental group of questionable pedigree, your first instinct might be to roll your eyes. After all, even some Democrats are starting to accept that the California Environmental Quality Act is often used as a legal weapon to kill projects disliked by opponents rather than working within the act to improve projects and lessen environmental effects. Those lawsuits usually allege environmental impact reports inadequately examine a project’s effect on plant or animal species, local congestion and the like. Global warming is a whole new ballgame and was injected into the discussion by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s landmark 2006 legislation, AB 32, which seeks to limit carbon dioxide emissions. As the article written by reporter Elliot Golan notes, the bill also required local agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions as part of the EIR process. But the problem is objective thresholds were not set statewide, so the process is highly subjective. It also means, the environmental group that filed the lawsuit, Citizens Advocating for Rational Development, felt comfortable questioning whether adequate study was done on the Ikea’s possible effect on the Sierra snowpack. Yes, the Sierra snowpack. Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, called such claims “absurd,” and he warned if the lawsuit proceeds, just about any claim might arise out of such lawsuits. In fact, he appears quite right. Accept that global warming is a cause of action in CEQA lawsuits and it’s time to buckle your seat belts for one wild ride. The Legislature fumbled a bipartisan effort to amend the CEQA law in its last session to make it easier for good projects to proceed. If the Ikea lawsuit makes progress in L.A. County courts, don’t be surprised if the Legislature takes another look at CEQA review – and sooner rather than later. The scientific consensus on global warming is that it is very real. Now, it’s time to have a rational discussion on how local development may contribute to it. It doesn’t appear we’ve had that yet. • • • I noticed in a local daily paper the other day that former Valley whiz kid Barry Minkow was sentenced to five years in prison for his latest fraud: ripping off parishioners at the San Diego church where he became a pastor following a prison stint for his notorious ZZZZ Best carpet scam. It didn’t merit much space, given the tale is a sad denouement to a pathetic life story. In case you need a quick review, the Reseda teenager became a media darling in the 1980s with his fast growing carpet cleaning business. But it turned out the business was a scam built on credit card fraud and lots of phony orders. Fast forward two decades and Minkow proclaimed he had learned his lesson and had rehabilitated himself. But as it turned out, he hadn’t learned a thing. Among the parishioners who were ripped off was an elderly widower – to the tune of $300,000. At the same time, Minkow was conducting financial fraud through his so-called Fraud Discovery Institute, in which he shorted shares of companies he slammed in the media for alleged misdeeds. After biting off more than he could chew with homebuilder Lennar Corp., which fought back hard, Minkow had to admit the institute was a fraud itself. He got another five years in the federal pen for that. I’m sure that Minkow, now 48, will be forever written off as the incorrigible fraudster that he is, and I’m fairly sure that there isn’t too much new to learn from his story: predatory scam artists are born every day. That being said, it’s worth documenting every one – and at least our very own – given how the business world is filled with them. • • • Perhaps you’ve noticed a few changes in the paper recently. We’ve introduced some improvements, starting with the list. It is now presented in a tighter format that gives us room to offer some information about the companies that make our rankings. The page also contains a graphical statistical breakdown of list or industry data, such as grouping ranked firms by employee count, as we do in this issue. Page four of our Up Front section has been revamped too. One story will highlight innovative companies and products, while a second story will analyze data that offers insight into the local economy. We are calling that story “The Numbers.” We hope you find the new features useful. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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