Challenges and opportunities faced by the business community were considered Sept. 22 at a lightly attended town hall panel discussion held in La Cañada and hosted by local Assemblywoman Laura Friedman.
Recurring themes included streamlining the permitting process, the need to reform the California Environmental Quality Act in relation to affordable housing for workers and the decline of traditional retailers.
The event, titled “The State of Business in California,” drew just under 50 audience members to Flintridge Preparatory School where they heard from panelists Elizabeth Shapiro, chief operating officer of Bizfed; Bent Hansen, owner of Los Gringos Locos in La Cañada Flintridge; Jennifer McLain, principal economic development officer for the city of Glendale; Annie Argento, principal of Argento/Graham and Leon Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
McLain highlighted her city’s business concierge program, a project started by Friedman when she formerly served on the Glendale City Council. McLain said going through the entitlement process has been daunting for businesses.
McClain added that Glendale started the Glendale Relationship Initiation Team, which brings together representatives from different departments to meet with major employers of the city. The announced departure of Nestlé spurred the creation the GRIT, she said.
“It’s about establishing a relationship, where business is frustrated and they want to leave,” she said. “We want to let them know they have a friend at City Hall and we can help them through this.”
In response to a topic Friedman posed about state regulations or legislation that could affect the business sector, Bizfed’s Shapiro brought up a bill currently on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would create a new state mandate to allow businesses to have 12-week mandatory leave of absence for “bonding with children.”
“What was not considered [by the bill’s author] was how does it impact businesses with existing mandates?” Shapiro said.
Hansen, who has operated Los Gringos Locos for 21 years, said mandated sick leave has a huge impact on his business.
Hansen added that there is not one specific regulation that is an issue for him, but he commented on the selective enforcement among restaurant inspectors.
“Some interpret [regulations] differently than the other, and that’s difficult for us to plan when an inspector has power like that,” the restaurateur said.
Hansen later said California is one of the best places to do business. “We can find everything we want here in California and you’ll always find someone to buy your product,” he said. “It’s a perfect place to do business.”
As the technology sector continues to boom and rapidly change in Los Angeles, Friedman asked about opportunities available and mentioned Amazon’s embarking to find a new home.
Aside from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. assembling a committee and selecting two potential sites for Amazon, McLain said Glendale is working on a request proposal for Amazon as well.
“Technology has changed so much,” McLain said. “Do we need to park as much as we used to? There are urban infill development opportunities.”
Gubler, who discussed at length rapid housing development in Hollywood and cited the need for CEQA reform to further aid affordable housing needs, added to Hansen’s comment about California.
“We’re known for location and great weather,” he said. “One thing we don’t focus on is talent in this state. There’s a number of creative people who came here because they wanted to innovate. We need to foster that, as far as legislation.”
Following the discussion, Pat Anderson, president and chief executive of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the feedback from the night does not “fall on deaf ears” in Sacramento. While large business received a bulk of lobbying and advocacy at the state level, small business needs more attention.
“I hope tonight is the start of change in the right direction,” she said.
Matt Sanderson is a Times Community News contributing writer.