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New City of Santa Cruz Website For Permits Is Great…In Theory

January 10, 2013

Open Counter-Santa CruzAfter reading the following article from Bloomberg Businessweek, I decided to take a test spin of the new Open Counter website for the City of Santa Cruz that was designed to help potential permit applicants with getting an initial idea of the requirements to open.  I wish I could tell you that I am now much more knowledgeable about opening up a retail store in a commercial zone in Santa Cruz because of this website, but the website would not produce the requirements that I would need to fulfill to open.  I was amused that in clicking on different buttons to figure out why the website would not share with me the requirements, I got a message telling me that I could submit my application for the required permits.  What permits would I be applying for???

As the title says, in theory, this website could be a useful tool in helping a business owner find out what is needed to open up in a particular jurisdiction.  In the meantime, there is no substitute for having a live person guide you through the various processes in any jurisdiction, so please feel free to contact me if you need help figuring out actual requirements to open a business in any jurisdiction.

Perhaps I caught the website at a bad time.  I am not certain.  For a testimony on the Open Counter website working, please read the following article from Bloomberg Businessweek – American small businesses hate red tape. About one in five called regulations their biggest problem in the latest survey by the National Federation of Independent Business. While Washington business lobbyists often blame federal labor and environmental rules for stifling business, many Main Street companies find themselves jumping through regulatory hoops closer to home—in some basement office at City Hall, with a stack of forms trying to get a zoning permit.

Santa Cruz, Calif., is trying to make that process easier. The city unveiled a smooth new website Wednesday designed to walk business owners through the permits, licenses, and approvals they need to make their businesses follow local rules. The app was a project of Code for America, a nonprofit that recruits smart young programmers to write software that make cities work better. The group, which has worked on school bus trackers and fresh food directories, hasn’t tackled business permitting before.

“I think of it as kind of TurboTax for business creation and business permitting,” says Joel Mahoney, Code for America’s tech evangelist, who helped build OpenCounter. The name is a nod to the tricky hours the planning department keeps: Monday through Thursday, before noon. (Like the rest of California, the city’s budget for such things is limited by Prop. 13.) Hilary Bryant, Santa Cruz’s new mayor, says the restricted hours were challenging when she and her husband opened a veterinary hospital in town over a decade ago. “Typically a small business owner is working during the hours that the city is also working,” she says.

I took the website for a test drive Wednesday morning to find out what it would take to open, say…to read the rest of the article, please click here.

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