Burlingame considers business advocate 

The city is considering hiring an ombudsman who will serve small-business owners frustrated by complicated, and in some cases inconsistent, ordinances and codes.

It will be one idea discussed today during the annual joint meeting between the City Council and Planning Commission, where a variety of topics will be reviewed.

"We’ve had about four recent examples where these small businesses felt it was too hard to go through the process [of opening a business and gaining permits]," said City Manager Jim Nantell, who said small-business owners — especially restaurant owners — don’t have the time or resources to review a complex list of rules.

Nantell said there are about four recent examples of small businesses hitting snags in city code and ordinances, costing owners time and money.

"They rent properties and they have to sign a lease and pay rent for six months or a year before they even turn a profit," he said. "By the time they open their [business], they’ve already spent a million dollars."

The most obvious example is at La Corneta Tacqueria on the corner of Burlingame and Lorton avenues, which opened Friday. It was supposed to debut in October, but during construction, a horizontal structural beam made the initial design impossible and a miscommunication with the city forced the project back to the Planning Commission for additional review.

Owner Joel Campos, who also has two restaurants in San Francisco, estimated he’s invested about $200,000 more than expected into the building to meet the complicated standards of the city.

"I was complaining at first, but I’m over it," he said. "We’re excited to open."

Dana Kern, who recently opened Chocolate Mousse Bakery & Bagels on Broadway, said she was told after she signed the lease that she would have to spend $50,000 on a new sprinkler system.

"We called [the fire marshal] to make sure before we signed our lease that we didn’t need to put in a sprinkler system," she said, but after the lease was signed, she learned that she was misinformed.

"The Chamber [of Commerce] helped me through it, and that’s not even their role," said Kern, who supports the idea of an ombudsman. "The whole process was very confusing."


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