Last December the OC Register’s Teri Sforza, one of their few good investigative reporters, presented an OC Watchdog story (outside paywall here) that should cost District Attorney Tony Rackauckas his job — just like thousands of southern Californians could be losing theirs, or need to relocate to Texas to stay employed. At least they’ll enjoy a lot less government. In part, Sforza wrote:
There was much bellyaching when Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas sued Toyota a few years back. The more generous critics called it political grandstanding, and the less generous critics called it “a shakedown lawsuit for the sole benefit of lining their pockets, but with little, if any, benefit for the citizens of Orange County.”
The D.A. assured everyone that his intent was to protect consumers from unfair business practices, and to stop Toyota from putting sales over safety. He settled with Toyota for $16 million, saying half would go for gang suppression efforts ($8 million); a quarter for the outside law firm’s fees and expenses ($4 million); and the rest for his office’s prosecution-of-financial-crimes account, and to cover its own legal costs.
Per a local attorney, the Orange County law firm Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson was likely compensated in the million$ for doing the DA’s work. Tony Liu went on to say “Orange County “consumers” will not see a dime from the settlement.” Liu also, correctly, points out this endeavor should have been a federal effort, and not conducted at the county level to leach money out of a successful California-based business.
We believe Toyota had a number of motives for the move, as did Corporate Relocation Consultant Joe Vranich. With their success as the sometimes US leader in auto market share, they’re still growing and somewhat landlocked in a complex of aging buildings in the Torrance/Long Beach area. It would likely be too costly to upgrade or expand, and then get slammed with increased California property taxes. The property will easily be sold, split up or re-occupied, but only after dozens of local vendors of support material and services are damaged by Toyota’s departure.
Nissan moved to Nashville in 2005 along with 1,300 jobs, and presumably Toyota saw that as a success. Toyota also took most of their computer infrastructure out off Torrance around 2007 as they were justifiably paranoid about being atop an earthquake fault, and it was cheaper to put their hardware in Arizona and link the company via a sophisticated high-speed network. Toyota would now be using sophisticated videoconferencing for any of its facilities to communicate with one another, so we’re not entirely believing their “get closer to the plants” excuse. Geography and time zones aren’t barriers any longer, and their stated reasons for moving seem hollow and rhetorical.
Toyota was likely tired of being screwed by the State of California and Los Angeles County — and by semi-ethical trickery like T-Rack’s suit. Japanese firms are also known for their devotion and in-turn loyalty to their employees, and it’s not at all a stretch to believe that they felt it was to their long-term benefit considering that Texas has no state income tax, among other advantages in costs of living.
DA Rackauckas now joins others — like race hustler Jesse Jackson — who saw the opportunity to
“shakedown” Toyota and extract eight-figures for his own selfish use. We’d hope Ms. Sforza, maybe the Register’s new partners at the Voice of OC or possibly T-Rack’s Democrat opponent, Greg Diamond, might follow up on the promised distribution above of the $16 million the DA lifted out of deep pockets at Toyota. Did $8 million go to fighting the gangs (and to what effect)? And where did the rest of it go besides his attorneys? Of course, one might also ask if any of the supposed victims of Toyota’s “putting sales over safety” saw any compensation from T-Rack and his cubical monkeys.
In the Sforza piece, Big Lucy Dunn, self-appointed CEO of the OC Business Council also spoke up for Toyota Motor Sales as they’re one of her paid membership. We note she made no difference in the outcome.
Ms. Sforza wrote that Rackauckas’ “nemesis”, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, had stated “…you can’t shake down a corporation and argue it’s for consumer protection and then not only not spend it in your own department, but sprinkle the largess to other county agencies, and argue it’s an appropriate way to spend that money.”
Spitzer’s right, but the grander issue here is why Rackauckas’ wasn’t condemned by the entire Board of Supervisors, the local press and Scott Baugh’s GOP for legally extorting this money out of Toyota and then spending it on his own Department, and presumably elsewhere in the County. Is T-Rack’s conduct in this any different than the predators at the Trevor Law Group?
No wonder Toyota’s leaving for Texas, rather than continuing to be a target for ambitious pocket pickers like our DA. This was simply plain theft “under color of authority”. You need to be done, Tony. What a shame that you’ll be re-elected.
Update: We were unable to find this Letter to the Editor from P. G. Harvey in Mission Viejo on the OC Register’s website.(and wonder why, altho the Reg has never been known for its expertise on the Internet). It was printed in the paper today (Sunday, 5/11):