Business bureaucracy needs fresh approach 

As anyone who’s attempted to open a business in San Francisco knows, this city doesn’t make it easy. Forbes magazine ranks San Francisco 197th worst out of 200 cities in the country in the cost of doing business. So it was refreshing to hear the top-tier mayoral candidates at a forum at the United Irish Cultural Center last week not only acknowledge the problem, but also propose solutions.

Venture capitalist Joanna Rees said when she asks store owners how it’s going, they take her to the wall containing myriad licenses and permits they are required to have, which have quadrupled in number and tripled in price in recent years. Rees said they tell her, “Why are all of these people in City Hall imposing all of these licenses and burdens on us?”

Former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier said restaurateurs complain, “I know what the rules are. And then the next day the Board of Supervisors, they change it, they put on another fee.”

Fortunately, after years of treating businesses like the enemy, it appears that most of the supervisors have gotten the message and are making amends. The Chamber of Commerce’s midyear business-friendly scorecard upgraded the board to B-plus from last year’s dismal D-minus. Pro-business legislation has included redevelopment of Treasure Island, the six-year payroll tax exemption for mid-Market Street businesses and allowing locally owned restaurants in the Upper Fillmore district.

One of the four supervisors scoring highest is mayoral candidate David Chiu. Having started a public affairs technology company, he said, “I know how difficult it is. Last year, I passed legislation to eliminate dozens of fees that were nickel-and-diming small businesses.” He favors awarding more city contracts to local small businesses and said he helped create the Office of Small Business to assist entrepreneurs in navigating The City’s bureaucracy.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera wants to revamp the business payroll tax, which he called “a job killer.” He also favors increasing business loans and wants to hire an ombudsman to work with small businesses to ease them through the regulatory process.

State Sen. Leland Yee also wants to befriend small businesses, saying, “One of the things that’s odd in San Francisco is we don’t pay attention to small businesses until they cry ‘uncle.’ We need to help them early on rather than trying to save them when they have one foot out the door already.”

Of course, it’s natural for candidates to make promises and tell people what they want to hear; it’s easy to talk the talk. We hope whoever becomes the next mayor also will walk the walk.

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