April 6, 2024
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Closing the gap between the Tri-Counties’ haves and have nots



How choppy and tough is the recovery in our region?

Recent unemployment data from Santa Barbara County underscored the “haves and have nots” phenomenon that underpins a society that is segregated into tourism centers with uber-rich residents and agricultural cities where the poor people who service the tourists and the rich folks reside.

Consider that unemployment rates in the relatively wealthy communities of Goleta, Santa Barbara and Solvang are, respectively 4.2 percent, 5.9 percent and 4.2 percent. In the services cities of Santa Maria and Lompoc, the unemployment rates are 13 percent and 14.7 percent.

You can find much the same discrepancy in Ventura County by comparing Oxnard, an agriculture and manufacturing hub, and suburban Thousand Oaks. The same used to be true for San Luis Obispo County’s north-south divide, but wine, tourism and solar power plants have reversed the fortunes for the greater Paso Robles area.

Recently there are signs that home building is beginning to pick up in the Santa Maria Valley, something that bodes well for improvements in the unemployment rate. And Oxnard’s fortunes are rising as developers break ground on the Wagon Wheel project and as upscale retailers such as Whole Foods and REI take hold at the  once-struggling Collection at RiverPark shopping center.

Ventura grapples with budget issues

Will a different Ventura emerge in the post-Rick Cole era?

For the Ventura County Taxpayers Association, that can’t happen fast enough.

The taxpayers are on a rant about hidden padding to public safety payrolls that allowed firefighters and police to collect an additional $3 million a year in 2013 dollars in pension benefits and vacation pay.

While other cities are using booming hotel taxes to replenish depleted bank accounts, the city of Ventura’s reserves are dangerously low, according to the taxpayer’s association.

I’ll be sitting down with Deputy Mayor Cheryl Heitmann in the next few weeks to learn more about Ventura’s fiscal condition and her push to develop an economic strategy for the city. Hopefully, one of her top goals is to get the city’s revenue up so the reserves can be replenished.

Europe’s economic history is disjointed

Reading about the banking woes of Cyprus, something struck me. Maybe we all missed one of the real lessons about Europe.

It occurred to me that while the U.S. has had a central bank for the past century and a history of 200-plus years of not defaulting on its debt, Europe does not share that past.

Regular defaults, economic crises and catastrophic conflicts have been the history of Europe since before the Napoleonic era.

In Moby Dick, written in 1851, Herman Melville described Spain as “a great whale stranded on the shores of Europe,” in a quote that was probably made up and then misattributed to Edmund Burke.

But, looking at the fiscal mess that’s become of Spain’s ailing banking industry, many in Germany and France would not disagree. And the same metaphor could apply to Italy, with Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus looking like smaller whales or large dolphins.

Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank is doing the best that he can to play a terrible hand. But looking to Europe to be the cohesive economic unit we imagined it to be in the common market heyday of the previous few decades may not hold up.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.