Registering businesses is a flop in Palo Alto | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

Local Blogs

By Diana Diamond

Registering businesses is a flop in Palo Alto

Uploaded: Sep 6, 2018

For years, the Palo Alto City Council has tried over and over again to either license or register all businesses in town for a variety of somewhat specious reasons. And in 2015 it inaugurated an actual business registry program, hired a firm to help ($85,000 for 2018-19), and charged businesses $54 a year to contribute information about their businesses.

It has really failed, according to a new report by the city’s own auditor. Some of the data is “inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent, and the registry data showed business trends that were inconsistent with comparable economic data,” the report said. The data showing a drop in business is also inconsistent with other census information and sales tax figures, the report said.

And I have to ask, is all this effort and money for a registry really worthwhile?

I doubt it. And now I wonder if we ever needed it. The city has had a Business Improvement District downtown for years that requires an annual fee from most businesses and is, in itself, already a registry of downtown businesses.

When four council members in 2014 wrote a colleagues memo on why the business registry was needed, the ideas presented were lofty and noble: to answer basic questions such as how many people work in town and for what kinds of businesses, to help tackle traffic and parking problems, perhaps by developing a Transportation Demand Management program, and to monitor progress.

When the council launched the business registry in 2015, it said the data could also be used for economic development, public safety and disaster preparedness, as well as reduce traffic congestion and coordinate with other transportation programs.

In other words, a kitchen sink full of worthy uses of the business registry data.

But Auditor Harriet Richardson’s report concluded that the city is not using any of the data collected and that the data “does not currently meet the city’s business needs to address its changing priorities.”

It’s been a failure.

I also wonder about some of the questions the businesses were asked to answer. In addition to the number of employees, the city also wanted to know the office square footage, how many parking spaces and parking permits the business has, among a few other questions. And once answered, the businesses have to each pay the city $54 to file the form – or get fined. The report did not indicate whether any businesses have been fined.

So why waste any more time and money on this registry? The council should first find out whether such a registry works for any other city – and in what way, and then have a good discussion to see if it is worth continuing in Palo Alto. Residents shouldn’t have to fork over their tax dollars for a worthless business registry.