Palo Alto is moving closer to shedding its status as one of the few cities in California that lacks a business license tax or registry.
This week, the City Council reviewed a draft ordinance that would establish a business registry with the goal of providing employment data to craft much-needed transportation demand management programs. Pending final council approval, the program is expected to launch on Dec. 31.
“I’m glad we’re moving forward with this,” Councilman Marc Berman said at a meeting Monday.
“It’s long overdue and I think it’s a great thing that we’re finally moving forward in a way that hopefully residents and businesses can all support and understand the positive things that we can achieve once we get this information.”
A report from City Manager James Keene underscored the importance of employment data.
“With such data, the city can begin to measure employment trends, business growth and activity throughout the city in a cohesive and coordinated manner,” the report said. “Its availability is vital for developing and measuring the effectiveness of transportation demand management programs and other transportation planning efforts.”
In their review of the ordinance, council members said a questionnaire that would provide much of the data should be kept as simple as possible — at least for the first year — to ensure compliance.
“I think we need to start simply,” said Vice Mayor Liz Kniss. “I don’t want this to become so complicated so quickly that we are not able to come up with what we really need.”
Others raised questions about provisions in the draft ordinance that would require businesses to post certificates of compliance in plain sight and empower city staff to make spot checks. Councilman Greg Scharff pointed out that the program is intended to be Web-based.
“I’m not sure why anyone needs to go into the business and see if they have their certificate up,” Scharff said. “If it’s online, it’s online. Why would you ever need to go into the business?”
Councilman Larry Klein agreed.
“The idea of an inspector walking through 525 University or some other office building to see if everybody has a certificate, I don’t think that’s the way we want to go,” Klein said.
Some council members also objected to a plan to create a temporary position to help manage the business registry.
“I have great belief and faith in the capabilities and skills of existing staff to incorporate these requirements and tasks into their responsibilities,” said Councilwoman Gail Price, adding that she believed the $30,000 would be better spent adding a position in the city’s Office of Emergency Services.
Unlike a business license tax measure that failed in 2009, the business registry would be cost-neutral. Businesses would pay $35 to $75, or the amount necessary to operate the program.
Residents including Elaine Uang praised the city for moving forward with the business registry. However, Uang said the success of the program will depend on the data that are ultimately collected.
“I think we’re on the cusp of some really good things happening with respect to parking management and transportation management,” said Uang, referring to plans to put residential permit parking and transportation demand management programs into place in the near future.
“But none of that is really going to be able to move forward if we don’t have a good grasp of who works here, what types of businesses we have and how we can help those people come in and out of Palo Alto more easily, more effectively, with a wider set of options.”
Email Jason Green at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at twitter.com/jgreendailynews.
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