Explaining Southern California's economy

New Case-Shiller data shows that the Southern California housing market may be stabilizing

The June Case-Shiller numbers are out, and while prices in Los Angeles and San Diego are only up 0.3% and 0.2% from May, respectively, there are other parts of the nation where prices have cratered far worse, year-over-year. LA is down 3.4% from last June, while San Diego is down 5.3%. But Chicago is down 7.4% and Minneapolis, 10.8%. Phoenix and Portland are both down more than 9%. 

So it's looking like SoCal is beginning to put the brakes on the slide.

The big question is whether the very modest SoCal uptick will persist. At this point, teensy price increases over a few months could indicate that we're finally seeing the housing market stabilize. And the S&P/Case-Shiller analysis indicates that SoCal may be mounting a recovery that's not going to be dragged down by other hard-hit markets:

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Does a new econ guy in the White House mean a new hope for jobless California?

We can always hope so. Princeton economist Alan Kreuger was just nominated by President Obama to head the Council of Economic Advisers, the three-person team that provides know-how on the economy to the chief executive. 

This move has been taken as a sign that Obama intends to get serious about unemployment. As the LA Times' Opinion L.A. blog points out, Kreuger is known for his work on labor issues:

Perhaps the research most relevant to his new post…is the recent work he did with Andreas Mueller of Stockholm University examining the efforts by unemployed people to find new jobs. Among their findings: People spend less time looking for work each day the longer they are unemployed, but they don't lower their wage demands significantly over time. This is especially true for younger workers, for whom the long-term cost of a big cut in pay is more severe than for an older worker closer to retirement, the study found.

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Freebie Nights: Why the porn business in California is struggling

If you check in with porn-industry advocates, they'll probably tell you that the last thing the pornography industry needs right now -- from a business perspective -- is an HIV scare coupled with a 2012 ballot measure that would require condoms to be worn by performers. But an HIV scare it has gotten, one that's temporarily shut down porn production in LA, the nation's smut capital and creator of a reported $12.6 billion in yearly sales (the totally SFW map at right shows Chatsworth, the center of the region's porn industry).

This is happening at the same time the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is rounding up signatures to put a ballot measure in front of voters next June that would require condoms in porn media permitted for production in LA. On balance, this doesn't sound outlandish, but certain groups within the porn industry argue that mandatory condom use will create an underground non-condom trade that will be less safe. 

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Amazon is spending how much to fight a California sales tax?!?!

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a story about Amazon's brisk spending on a 2012 referendum that would ask voters whether the state should be able to require the online retailer to collect sales tax. We're talking $5.25 million -- and as the NYT reports, we're more than nine months away from the actual vote.

The argument on the pro-tax side is that enforcing collection will bring in $200 million in revenue California "has already counted toward balancing the state budget." Obviously, down the road there's quite a bit more moolah at stake than that.

On the Amazon side, the argument has been framed in terms of jobs, but it's really about cash: Amazon figures it will do pretty well in California if it can sell people all manner of stuff for less than they can buy it from outfits that force them to pay the tax. Just for the record, the taxing part would occur at online checkout. Heretofore, it's been the responsibility of Amazon's California customers to pay the sales tax themselves -- and as you can imagine, that's a difficult responsibility for the state to enforce.

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How to privatize the LA Zoo – the right way

I'm just catching up with the debate about privatizing the management of the LA Zoo. The core issue is that the city is going to find it more difficult to run the zoo in the future, as costs rise. Operations could be cut back, ticket prices could be raised, workers could be laid off, other fees could be levied -- none of these are particularly appealing options, so in early August, the City Council authorized a Request for Proposal (RFP) to allow a bidding process to begin.

So how would this work? KPCC laid it out in a report in late July:

Under a so-called alternative management structure, the city would retain ownership of the zoo, and none of the zoo's 228 full-time workers would be laid off. Employees who do zoo-specific work would keep their current jobs. Plumbers, carpenters, gardeners and other non-zoo specific employees, however, could be transferred into other city departments.

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