Northbound: A small business-friendly agenda for North County

Local economists are projecting an economic slowdown in San Diego County this year, which may impact our North County small business community.

If there were an opportunity to advance a pro-active small business agenda in our North County cities, this would seem to be it.

While North County has a strong reputation for being “business-friendly,” there’s always room for improvement. Small steps in the right direction can make a big difference for entrepreneurship and local job creation. I’m an idea guy, so here’s a few that maybe our North County mayors and city councilmembers can consider reviewing for implementation.

Why not give small-business owners a central role in cutting red tape? From 1993 to 2000, special public hearings known as “Regulatory Relief Days” were held in the city of San Diego, giving residents and business owners an opportunity to share their horror stories with municipal bureaucracy. Critically, the popular program institutionalized the routine annual review and repealing of onerous and obsolete city regulations.

With bipartisan support, Regulatory Relief Days led to the elimination of more than 40 obsolete regulations, such as the ban on child care centers in residentially zoned areas, and reduced the time to get a business permit in the city by more than half.

How about stimulating sales activity and construction job growth with a short-term waiver of permits and inspection fees for common home renovation projects? Cities such as Anaheim, Corona and West Sacramento have in recent years held “home improvement holidays” offering a cost-effective way to spur new economic activity that is otherwise hampered by budget cuts, long waits and exorbitant surcharges.

In June 2009, Denver held a two-week “Home Renovation Bonanza,” giving owners of single-family homes and duplexes free, issued-on-the-spot permits for nine major property improvements, including basic interior remodeling chores, roof repair and solar panel installation. In all, 1,234 permits were pulled by property owners, costing the city $85,773 in lost permit fee revenue but generating $6.28 million in home improvements that created a wealth of construction jobs for independent contractors.

Finally, targeted relief should be considered for home-based businesses (HBBs), a low-profile commercial sector that comprises nearly half of all businesses in America.

Giving a helping hand to HBBs can produce results quickly and cost-effectively. In the early 1990s, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors advanced an aggressive nine-point work agenda for home-based businesses, which included organizing annual workshops and conferences for HBBs, advocating for zoning ordinance reforms and developing a home-based business guide. Why not North County?

Fostering a healthier business climate is a laudable goal that every elected official should prioritize. In these challenging economic times, leaders in North County should seize the initiative, and set an example for all others to follow.

Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.

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