City, Business Leaders Seek to Improve Ties : Thousand Oaks: Council applauds efforts by local group seeking to streamline government and will consider additional reforms.

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After nine months of work, a Thousand Oaks group formed to improve relations between local businesses and the city will present two plans to the City Council on Tuesday aimed at streamlining local government.

Then, the council will vote on whether to ask the group of local business leaders to form a standing committee to pursue a long list of proposals aimed at converting Thousand Oaks into a more business-friendly city.

Already the group, called the Mayor's Business Roundtable, has had some success. The council recently approved a plan to streamline the permit process for people making minor additions to their homes.

The business leaders have proposed that the council revamp the permit process for business owners who wish to make property improvements. And they have asked the council to restructure the city's guidelines for businesses to improve accessibility for the disabled.

A report the group submitted to the council this week lists several other proposals it hopes the city will adopt--plans the group believes will significantly affect the way the city deals with business.

As they approach Tuesday's meeting, members of the group are trumpeting their performance like a hit Broadway play.

"It's been amazing," Mayor Elois Zeanah said.

"Outstanding," said Harry Selvin, chairman of the round table.

"Bravo to the Mayor's Business Roundtable," said Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski. "It started as an experiment and it has now proven to us that dedicated citizens can get city government moving."

Over the past nine months, the group has met weekly to brainstorm, debate and lay out plans to cut red tape.

Tuesday's proposals, round table members said, would be a step in that direction.

One plan would limit the city's power to force business owners to make improvements to their property.

Normally, when a business owner asks to make an improvement--such as a landscaping change or adding space to an office--the city requires the owner to make other, unrelated upgrades to the property.

The result, said round table member Francisco Behr, is that businesses are deterred from making improvements at all.

"Right now people with aging properties are afraid to make upgrades because when they ask for the permits, they're going to be required to make all kinds of changes that they cannot afford," said Behr, a Thousand Oaks architect.

"This proposal prevents that," he said. "It allows for some flexibility."

The other item being forwarded Tuesday would change the city's building regulations regarding access for the disabled.

"The goal is to end the confusion between our policy and the state and federal policies," Zeanah said. "This would require our policy to be consistent with the others."

In addition, the council will vote on whether to establish the business round table as a standing city committee.

Should the council approve that measure, the group will have a permanent spot in the government process and will become a fixture on the long list of mayoral duties.

Already, incoming Mayor Alex Fiore has said he looks forward to participating in the weekly round table discussions.

Last week, he sent a letter to the 20 regular participants outlining the goals he hopes the group will tackle in the upcoming year.

His objectives include passing an ordinance that encourages the city to buy from local businesses, charting a downtown redevelopment plan, and creating a small-business assistance program that could be run jointly by the city and the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"I gave them this list because I want to act as a catalyst," Fiore said. "I want to help them bring recommendations to the council and see us accomplish something."

Members of the round table said they welcomed Fiore's interest in the committee.

"Alex has a fantastic range of experience and we look forward to hearing his thoughts and ideas," said Selvin, the round table chairman. "I know we will look closely at his suggestions."

Selvin said that in order to keep the round table from becoming politically influenced, Fiore will be asked to act only as a facilitator--which is the same role Zeanah has played during the past nine months.

"I think that has proven to be the best way to go about it," Fiore said. "My job will be to help them bring issues to the attention of the council, and to make certain there is cooperation from (the city) staff."

At the time the round table was being formed, the main concern was that it could not act without being ensnared by the city's tangle of business and environmental interests.

Now, Zukowski said, the round table has proven itself to be an impartial advisory body.

"I think this group has demonstrated what can happen when you bring people together who are outside of the regular government process," Zukowski said.

"They have developed for themselves a reputation of fairness and thoughtfulness that should help this city improve its standing with the business community," she said.

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