New Rules Would Benefit Home Businesses

Times Staff Writer

Hiring workers, storing equipment and selling products on-site would be easier for home-based businesses under recommendations endorsed by the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission.

After more than two hours of public comments during a hearing earlier this week, the commission voted to send a series of municipal code changes to the City Council for approval.

"We tried to be friendly to small businesses ... without turning neighborhoods into commercial or retail areas," commission Chairman Jim Bruno said. "The guiding principle was: Nothing would be permitted that will change the fundamental nature of our neighborhoods as residential in character."

Under a proposal crafted by a citizens panel, a ban on on-site sale of products or services and prohibitions against storing supplies and commercial vehicles would be eliminated. A policy permitting two visitors a day would be eased to allow four visitors from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

And rather than forbidding a home-based business from having employees who don't live in the residence, as many as two would be allowed to visit daily, although only one at a time.

The changes would offer extra concessions to in-home music teachers, who have unified on the issue and presented the commission with a petition including hundreds of signatures supporting the changes.

Music lessons and other forms of tutoring and instruction would be permitted from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and up to two students at once would be allowed. Group instruction for up to eight students, such as a chamber music group, would be allowed once a week.

"I think we need to be sensitive to our neighbors," said Diana Ray-Goodman, who has taught violin, viola and chamber music from her Sunset Hills home for 21 years.

"Thankfully, I've had a very good relationship with my neighbors.... My house is known as the music house," said Ray-Goodman, who performed with the Phoenix Symphony for five years before moving to Thousand Oaks.

Critics warn that home businesses could take advantage of the more relaxed rules and generate increased traffic and parking problems. They also cite safety concerns for parents and homeowners as more employees and customer visits are allowed in residential neighborhoods.

But business owners point out that they would continue to live in their neighborhoods and say they would be foolish to harm their communities' quality of life.

"Anyone who is running a home-based business would want to keep their outside home environment from compromising their neighbors," said Lynn Engelbert, who recently began a consulting business to assist disabled seniors and their families from her Newbury Park home. "With these few changes, it's just common sense to know what's appropriate in a neighborhood."

Commissioners left unchanged a prohibition against a business using mechanical or electrical equipment that emits any sound, vibration or smell that can be detected from an adjoining property or right of way. The commission also suggested that the City Council review the code changes after one year in case any unforeseen complications arise.

"The real problem with this is we're not quite sure what the effects of changing this ordinance will be," said Michael Farris, vice chairman of the commission. "We want to be careful about how much more permissive we make the rules."

The regulation changes are so modest that it's doubtful they would lead to abuse, said Elayne Haggan, who with her husband owns Turbo Cat Lighting Systems, which assembles and markets high-performance bicycle lights selling for $100 to $340.

"These changes are still very strict on businesses," she said. "The biggest change is there will be more revenue generated for the city because more of the people who have stayed under the radar and have been reluctant to apply for a license will be willing to come forward and be counted."

Haggan's 15-year-old business, operated from her home in the Wildwood neighborhood, uses components manufactured elsewhere in Southern California. Though it markets to bike dealers and cyclists worldwide, there are no on-site sales and a college-student employee works an average of about five hours a week.

John Reid, chairman of the Residents Roundtable panel that formulated the suggestions, said the group tried to be careful in its recommendations.

"We took a very pragmatic approach," he said. "If it wasn't broke, we didn't try to fix it. We tried to work within the existing framework as much as possible."

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