The city of Petaluma in recent years has not had the best reputation for business, given its significant opposition toward retail and other development.
But that reputation is changing.
The Petaluma Chamber of Commerce has formed an economic development committee headed by Anthy O'Brien, president of the telecommunications company Top Speed Data. And for its part, the City Council hired a economic development staff member tasked with retaining and attracting new business.
As Business Journal Staff Writer Jeff Quackenbush reported recently, the new partnership between the city and chamber has already had significant impact. Among the businesses helped:
-- When wound-care treatment developer Oculus Innovative Sciences needed a water permit to renew its lease, the Petaluma chamber worked with the city to expedite the permitting process. The result was a three-year lease for the company.
-- When Lagunitas Brewing Company needed permits to expand to meet rapid growth, the city held joint meetings with various city departments such as planning, public works and fire. The result: Weeks were shaved off the length of the permit process.
-- And when fast-growing Enphase Energy faced an affordable housing impact fee as part of its relocation to 96,000 square feet of now empty office space in Petaluma, the City Council approved an exception because it was not a new project and involved high-wage jobs.
In good times, burdensome and unnecessary delays probably would have occurred in any or all of these cases and complaints would have been dismissed.
In times of 10 percent unemployment, that would be inexcusable.
So what Petaluma and many other cities and counties are doing on economic development around the North Bay is welcome. Improving the business climate -- and the prosperity and livability of our communities in the process -- has of late become a priority in nearly every North Bay county, city and chamber. That's good.
But there is a long way to go.
For the North Bay to stand out as a great place to do business will require real and lasting change.
In the region's largest city, Santa Rosa, the Mayor's Economic Development Task Force has a least begun the process.
The task force is exploring ideas on how to streamline city permits and fees. The city could, for instance, offer incentives to small businesses under 25 employees, lowering fees or even waiving them in some cases. Meanwhile, building fees that were established a few years ago when the industry was booming are not practical today.
Such fees "cannot be prohibitive and must be made affordable so they are not impediments to building projects or virtually eliminate the return on investment for developers," said Rob Cantu, owner of Western Builders, chairman of the task force Planning and Permitting Study Group. "If there is quicker turnaround on permits, new job creation will result in more tax revenue," he said. "Such reduced fees would open the front end of the hopper."
Mr. Cantu praised what the city has done so far. The Community Development Department "has already targeted many of these areas for study and implemented some change, but it's time to bring industry and city staff together and go all the way. If we don't there will be little to talk about -- it will be too late," he said.