Friday, August 19, 2016

Proposed Changes by LA City Council to Expedite Permitting for Small Businesses

Small businesses in Los Angeles have, for a long while, been facing many difficulties in getting started. Local and city-wide ordinances make it a very long and expensive process to open a new business, especially a restaurant or similar establishment. The main complaint among those trying to get their foot in the door is that they are required to work with and submit paperwork to various departments within the city government that don't necessarily work closely together. In several instances, an aspiring business owner worked with one department for a while to get their plans approved, only to find out from another department that their plans will be rejected due to insufficient parking. Fortunately, according to Amy Edelen's L.A. Times article, members of the Los Angeles City Council are looking to introduce a new plan to make the process faster and easier for all parties involved.

Even for restaurants that already exist, the renewal of a conditional use permit, which is required to get a liquor license, can take a year, between actually submitting the documentation and waiting for it to be approved. Councilman Mitch O'Farrell has taken the first steps toward speeding up the process, by proposing a plan that would create a new department in the city government designed specifically to deal with small businesses and create that connection between all of the other departments. O'Farrell believes that the new department will be beneficial because it will allow new business owners to sit down with a representative of City Hall and spend just a few minutes planning out a checklist of all of their requirements and an approximate timeline.

Too many potential business owners have been forced to give up before ever opening. Small businesses contribute greatly to the economy, so if the process isn't improved, more potential employees will be laid off and new jobs will become much harder to find. Even renewing a permit can be a tiresome and costly process, especially in areas where rent is high. If the permit takes a while to be approved, the business owner is forced to pay rent for months when the business isn't open or making any money. While representatives from the Department of Building and Safety claim that the permitting process isn't nearly as long as people complain, others claim that the delays are due to the convoluted nature of the various departments. With O'Farrell's plan, at least some of that confusion should be resolved, which should help to speed things along.

Even if a business already existed on the property, if the business changes from an office space to a retail establishment, under current regulations, a "change of use" is triggered. That means that the entire process of starting a business has to go back to the beginning as if the original business had never existed. While most of the complaints about the process are related to new restaurants, analysts hope that the new rules will help all small businesses to get their start. O'Farrell believes that the initiative will make the process more straightforward, and as long as it is approved by the City Council, the changes are expected to begin by the end of the year. As O'Farrell said, "Behind every empty storefront, there's a story." Hopefully, the City Council will approve his plan and help make those stories into realities.

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