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North Bay Business Journal

Friday, January 24, 2014, 5:30 am

Editorial: Of Amy’s, PLAs and building permit fees

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    Business Journal EditorialIt’s been a bit of a rough couple of weeks for business, jobs and the economy in Sonoma County.

    First and foremost were news reports that the largest and most successful organic food producer in the North Bay, Amy’s Kitchen, was dropping plans to build an additional production facility in Santa Rosa that could employ 800 people. Amy’s, founded in Petaluma in Andy and Rachel Berliner’s kitchen, is one of the most progressive companies anywhere. Yet somehow city leaders could not find a way to keep them at home.

    Incredibly, officials acted as if the $34 million water bill they handed Amy’s last year for the expansion — which city staff now say was “inaccurate” — had little to do with the company’s decision to expand instead on the East Coast. Well, it couldn’t have helped.

    Not to be outdone by the city of Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors appears poised to hand construction unions a gift while giving the stiff arm to local independent, often small family companies that represent the vast majority of the building industry.

    The pending approval to require a Project Labor Agreement for county projects over $10 million is blatantly political. The unions have been wanting PLAs for years and are demanding them in return for their support come election time. It appears some kind of PLA is inevitable. But as a representative of the Associated Builders & Contractors writes above, including an alternate bid process would at least provide some protection for taxpayers against cost overruns and give non-union companies a chance to compete.

    Now, back to the city of Santa Rosa. On Tuesday, the council approved steep increases in permit and development fees. Their reasoning: Current fees are not covering the city’s cost for processing applications, but should. In the private economy, when income is not covering costs you look at trimming expenses or finding new customers and revenue streams. But not so here. The city’s solution: Raise the fees 54 percent over five years, rejecting pleas from the building industry to spend some time studying the potential impact.

    Now, none of this means the end of the world. It just means 800 fewer job opportunities for our neighbors and children. It just means thousands of independent contractors and workers will be put at an economic disadvantage. And it very well might mean that affordable housing or a commercial building doesn’t get built.

    One has to wonder, though, where the tipping point is between just another series of blows to the economy and a knock-out punch.

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