Menlo Park council to study streamlining permits, forming small business commission

The Menlo Park City Council reaffirmed that the devil's in the details as it started exploring whether to create a small business commission.

What defines "small," they asked during the council's Oct. 1 meeting. Should it be a commission, or a committee? How would members be chosen?

Those questions quickly inspired an energetic discussion in the wake of Vice Mayor Ray Mueller's request that the city look at forming a commission that would provide feedback on the environment for small business in Menlo Park; advocate for small business friendly improvements; interact with the economic development manager; and provide analysis of policy matters.

"It's a great signal to business owners in town how much we care about their success," Mr. Mueller said.

During public comment, Chamber of Commerce CEO Fran Dehn suggested that the commission should focus on ways to eliminate barriers to attracting and retaining businesses. She said the city has lost opportunities thanks to the labyrinth of procedures that must be navigated to open a business in Menlo Park; often, the owner decides to go elsewhere.

"We have to look at the permitting process. We have great people who work in the city but we have to look at some of the very, very basic things," Ms. Dehn said.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton agreed, and questioned whether limiting discussion to small businesses would lead to solutions and streamlining for all sectors of the city's commercial membership. "Do they really have specific issues? ... It's great for showing us all the symptoms," she said, but suggested that what causes problems during the planning and permitting process for small entities versus larger ones may differ.

Councilman Rich Cline appeared to be wondering whether the commission would become another version of the Downtown Alliance, a coalition of Menlo Park business and property owners, saying that some businesses perhaps have an unfair amount of representation already.

"I would hate to have the same old, same old voices," he said, citing Draeger's as an example of a historic name with great influence and also noting that Facebook already has widespread civic representation.

In the end, the council voted 5-0 to schedule a study session to investigate ways to streamline the city's procedures for business owners, including whether a commission would be useful.


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