Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Bureaucracy is Alive and Well in California

Today is Thursday, October 8, 2009. Do you know where your bureaucrats are?

California’s state budget is hemorrhaging; state employees are being laid off, and furloughed. Such obstacles will not slow bureaucrats on their myopic tasks.

California is borrowing $8.4 billion in short term obligations to cover its budget, the third of the fiscal year. Yet the bureaucracy slugs along.

The estimated annual cost for a small business in California to comply with state regulations is $134,122. A moving van costs less.

Fiscal exigencies do not stop the bureaucracy. Three recent examples show how Sacramento and local governments are strangling California.

The state bureaucrats have just told Chinese rice noodle factories that the bureaucrats know how to prepare noodles better than the Chinese, who have only been preparing noodles for thousands of years in Asia and over 150 years in San Francisco. History has proven the safety of the noodles. But the bureaucrats in Sacramento know better.

The traditionalists store the noodles at room temperature for up to 8 hours.

The bureaucrats demand they be stored either at or below 41º or above 140º, either of which will render the noodles undesirable and arguably unedible.

The state inspectors recently shut down part of a San Francisco noodle factory, resulting in nine workers losing their jobs.

The Department of Public Health said it’s a matter of public safety and that ethnic foods are not treated any differently than any other foods.

Unless the legislature changes the law next year, more jobs will be lost.

Flat screen TV’s and Apple are the mainstays of the electronics market today. The California State Energy Commission has placed a bull’s eye on the big screens. It has proposed a regulation that will ban “energy inefficient” large screen TV’s. Sets sold after January 1, 2011 would have to reduce energy consumption by about 33%. Even tougher standards would become effective in 2013. 25% of current big screens and 100% of plasma screens larger than 58 inches would be banned.

The ban would in theory cut consumers’ electrical bills by $8.1 billion over 10 years, and reduce the need for new power plants.

California currently imports 30% of its electricity. As we learnt from the blackouts 6 years ago, California is not receptive to new power plants.

The new TV’s would supposedly save energy, but they may well consume less electricity than the large, e.g. 36," TV’s they would replace.

The argument is that TV’s consume 10% of household electricity and 2% of all of California’s electrical demand.

A greater source of all electrical consumption is spread throughout the residence. Our solid state appliances no longer need time to warm up, unlike the old vacuum tubes. Flip the on button and they are ready to go.

That’s because they’re always on.

Turn off the lights in your residence, and then count the red lights and clocks that remain on. I counted 16 in our house, and that doesn’t include the computer, monitor, and printer which are turned off when not in use.

The problem is often not the TV per se, but the video game consoles hooked up to them. If the California State Energy Commission banned the sale of video game consoles in California, our electricity demand would drop, and hundreds of thousands of parents would cheer.

Another example just occurred a few blocks from my house. Bagel Me is a franchised chain. The neighborhood Bagel Me was doing a land office business, often more than the local Starbucks. The tables with 60 seats were full in the morning with long lines to order.

However, parking is tight. Bagel Me shares the small building with a pre-school. The parking consists of 12 regular spaces and one handicapped spot. The City recently eliminated on-street parking in front of Bagel Me, increasing the parking pinch.

However, a strip mall is across a side street. The 10 store strip mall has 70 parking spots, and is usually only half full, at best. Thus, patrons of the pre-school and Bagel Me often parked in the privately owned strip mall.

The owners complained to the Director of Community Development (the euphemism for code enforcement) for the City of Tustin. The City’s response was to order Bagel Me to cut its seating in half to 30 seats.

The effect was immediate. Prior to the order, the restaurant lacked sufficient parking for the customers. To paraphrase the manager, now there’s insufficient seating for the customers. And soon, there will be no customers. The floor space looks like an empty stage.

Business is down substantially, and the city risks another empty store front.

If the strip mall was unhappy, it had every legal right as a private landowner to post signs stating that parking is limited to customers of the mall, and that violators will be towed. The onus would then be on it for any subsequent ill will. However, it got the city bureaucrats to cripple Bagel Me.

Even if Bagel Me may have exceeded its permitted limits, it should not be penalized for success in a perilous economy by a city bureaucrat.

Orange County, whose economy is based on diversified entrepreneurism, has already lost 15,000 entrepreneurs in this economic crisis. One more is about to bite the dust.

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