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Recoding, Who Needs It? LA Does … It will be Good for Business

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JUST SAYIN’-In a time of economic recovery (as slow as it may seem), Los Angeles wants and needs to attract new businesses and expand upon what is already here.  

Lately, audiences of television and radio are being bombarded by ads from New York (10 years tax free for eligible businesses that relocate there) and Texas (the Perry commercials touting just how business-friendly the Lone Star State is).  Certainly, California and Los Angeles, in particular, must be as appealing. 

California as a whole has consistently taken the lead in progressive issues.  Our standards are high for energy-efficiency (we pay more at the pump for gasoline but benefit from substantially lower pollution as a result).  Los Angeles (as well as many cities throughout the state) has banned single-use plastic bags.  We promote solar and wind technologies to reduce our carbon footprint.  

We have stringent requirements for teacher credentialing and have consequently produced some of the brightest students in the country (consider the numerous championships won by the Valley’s El Camino and Granada Hills high schools in the Academic Decathlon).  Many of them will become our future entrepreneurs. 

Yes, some companies choose not to locate here or to relocate elsewhere because they opt to be part of the problem rather than comply with our pretty basic standards to become part of the solution.  Most of us, however, are proud of the platform we consistently support and the reputation we have garnered as a result of our high standards. 

Why, then, has the City of Los Angeles made it so complicated, frustrating, and costly for our Angelinos to expand current businesses or create new ones?  It just seems counter-intuitive. 

Of course, there is a very necessary “bureaucracy” (sorry, the word generally has a bad connotation) with which to deal.  We don’t want a repeat of the Northridge Meadows Apartments which pancaked from three to two stories during the 1994 earthquake where too many people, many of whom were young college students, were seriously injured or killed. 

Someone certainly had taken shortcuts.  New codes or code modifications were immediately put into place to help insure against future such catastrophes.  The City is making a concerted effort to protect us.  In fact, we are currently witness to LA’s effort to retrofit older buildings to help them withstand major temblors.  Thus, regulations and their concomitant enforcement are absolutely needed if our community is to function as it should. 

HOWEVER, in order to keep and draw business, we also need to make our process more user-friendly. 

First adopted in 1946, the coding system certainly needs to address the ever-changing demands and realities of the 21st century. 

I understand that the City of Santa Clarita gets an A+ for the streamlining and the ease with which applicants can get permits while still holding a high bar for those aspirants.  On the other hand, Santa Clarita is a very small community (by comparison to LA’s 3.8 million people) with far fewer businesses to oversee than our City has.  As one councilmanic staffer shared with me, “The situation is like comparing apples and oranges.”  Yet, we can still investigate and consider, as appropriate, adopting that city’s best practices that will work for us. 

There is a structure now in place through the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, called Recode LA.  Its mission is to address the complexity of the application and compliance processes by devising “a comprehensive revision of LA’s outdated zoning code.”  It will address a long list of issues which include the following: 

            (1)  creating industrial sanctuaries to meet future employment needs

            (2)  enhancing the jobs/housing balance

            (3)  streamlining and making improvements to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)    

            (4)  removing barriers to green solutions 

We should commend our City for initiating that program.  Yet, it foresees a 5-year process before a 2017 completion date.  So what do businesses do in the meantime? 

I am not going to go into all the details with which applicants are confronted today.  There are various departments which require permits for the same enterprise:  Zoning, Police, Building and Safety, and more.  Then there is also the Department of Code Enforcement. 

Before permits can be issued, there are many specifications that must be met.  Permits can require thousands of dollars of up-front outlay—exceedingly difficult for the average first-time business operator.  After the approval has been stamped on all the necessary permits by the various offices (some of which have to be revisited for further approval—talk about jumping through hoops), the business person then usually signs a lease to build the company on the property. 

But, if a year or two later Code Enforcement inspects and finds that “new or different” regulations are not being adhered to, the business can legally be closed down by the City (yes, notice is given by the City but often too late or impossible for reasonable compliance by the business owner, such as when a department earlier provides an understanding that the distance between certain types of businesses and the nearest residential property must not be less than 100 feet and then later changes it to 1000 feet—you can’t move the building!). 

Too often the clauses (often contradictory) are just too nebulous for the average staffer to interpret accurately—not his or her fault.  And what about the three-year lease for which the lessee is still responsible?  What about the thousands already expended on permits and subsequent upgrades?  It could all be for naught.  And what a discouragement! 

We must pursue a course, then, that does not dissuade investment in our sprawling community (469 square miles).  One of the goals is to create a “clear and predictable Code that better meets the City’s current and future needs, and that also provides an interactive on-line experience.”  Kudos for that concept! 

In the meantime, we must immediately begin remedying the “cumbersome, unclear, and unnecessarily complicated” process.  It is, without question, unfair to operators who are currently trying to comply with every rule and regulation but nevertheless get caught in a web of obfuscation (whether intended or not).  The demands seem to be draconian, requiring too much time, energy, and cost which the average applicant cannot spare. 

Furthermore, not every such person has the means to hire a specialist and/or legal expert to represent them.  We need to demand, right now, a pragmatic, logical, and sensitive level of flexibility to maintain and attract business which can infuse energy into our economy while providing an additional tax base and good jobs that can further reduce our un- and under-employment statistics. 

Just sayin’ …

 

(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)

-cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 37

Pub: May 6, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

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