Task force implements pro-business efforts

A subcommittee of the Business Assistance Task Force reported its efforts to assist existing businesses and encourage more to open during last week's City Council meeting.

"Several dozen new stores have opened up in town in the past year and we have turned down none," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, who leads the task force and subcommittee with Mayor Toni Iseman. "If we have a reputation for not being friendly to business, they need to look at the numbers."

Twelve task force recommendations have been completed, including peripheral parking at Pavilions during Festival Season, establishing a customer service improvement team at City Hall, and annual customer service evaluations.

"The biggest change was the committee recommendation to award a $50,000 grant to the Chamber of Commerce to hire an economic consultant," Pearson said. "The chamber indicated it was not ready for that."

City Manager John Pietig, who has a background in business development, suggested making that a qualification for the assistant city manager position, which has since been added to the job description, Pearson said.

The task force began meeting in April 2009 and folded in June 2010.

More than 50 residents and business community members participated, said Planning Commissioner Linda Dietrich, a subcommittee member.

Goals included getting locals and tourists to spend more money in the city and finding out how they viewed the businesses, retaining established business and attracting new ones.

The task force created "Laguna Beach: Open for Business" as a forum for business owners or prospective owners to iron out difficulties before getting tied up in red tape.

"Open for Business turned out to be almost salon-type meetings," Dietrich said. "People came in and we had open conversations. We have evidence of businesses that came to town after attending the meetings."

The forum will continue on a quarterly basis. The Open for Business panel consists of two planning commissioners, city staff, one architect and a representative of the local business community.

"It is amazing how many recommendations we have accomplished, or are in the works or will be accomplished," said Planning Commissioner and subcommittee member Anne Johnson.

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