COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | CARL DEMAIO

Cutting red tape for San Diego small businesses

Everyone knows it’s a tough economy. And if you own a business in San Diego, you know that government red tape makes life even tougher. In fact, the best thing that government can usually do for business is to just get out of the way.

Fortunately, there is finally some good news. If you own a shop or restaurant in one of San Diego’s older commercial districts that has formed a Business Improvement District, local government leaders have actually reduced red tape for once. Thursday, the San Diego City Council voted on a major reform I have been pushing that will reduce the amount of time and paperwork it requires to operate a business association in these areas.

Many neighborhood shopping districts, such as the Gaslamp Quarter, Old Town, Little Italy and others, have formed Business Improvement Districts, or “BIDs,” during the last 20 years. These districts are formed when a majority of business owners in a neighborhood voluntarily place a small assessment on themselves each year to put toward promotions and improvements for their business district. These groups organize some of the city's largest outdoor festivals each year, create street banner programs, implement neighborhood improvement projects, recruit new businesses and more.

BIDs have been a major success and have turned around many of San Diego’s older commercial areas. However, a major hurdle has been the city’s reimbursement policy. Rather than assessing businesses and providing the funds directly to the organization, each BID was forced to submit receipts after the fact. This caused cash flow problems and left some BIDs waiting months to get the money owed to them — money that was theirs to begin with.

In July of last year, I released my “Open for Business” action plan that proposed reforms aimed at making San Diego friendlier to small businesses, including this one. In January, three of my colleagues, Council President Tony Young, Councilmember David Alvarez and Councilmember Lorie Zapf, signed onto a joint memo requesting the reform be docketed at council.

This change is vital to ensuring that San Diego’s BIDs are focused on promoting and serving their small-business members, rather than being caught up in the bureaucracy at City Hall. A majority of the council has now indicated support for this idea, and I expect it will pass today. But this is only the beginning. The city still has far too much red tape for businesses, small and large alike. I believe that the city should be a partner to businesspeople, not an enemy.

That’s why I will soon be announcing the creation of an economic development task force, a group of business leaders and small-business advocates who have the passion, know-how and leadership to get San Diego’s economy running strong again. I will look to this task force as I work on a comprehensive economic development plan, a “Pathway to Prosperity” for San Diego. This project will include significant reforms and initiatives to create real, impactful changes.

For example, I will recommend a major restructure of the city’s Development Services Department, which will include a new system of pricing and approval for the permitting process that will take the guessing game out of it. I will also propose reforms to special event permitting to encourage more revenue-generating special events for the city. And I have already proposed changes at the Office of Small Business that I will refine and continue to push for. Perhaps most importantly, I will be releasing a targeted business development plan for specific sectors of the San Diego economy to bring jobs into the region.

As you can see, cutting red tape for BIDs is truly just the beginning, and I’m not done at all. Please send me your ideas at carldemaio@sandiego.govor call my new Jobs Creation Hotline at 619-236-6210 — I would love to hear your ideas.

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