The sound of artfully designed bells outside Shorelines Gallery in downtown San Diego used to be a familiar sound to gallery co-owner Tommy Mueller.
Visitors and tourists would toll the bells, and maybe come in and shop at the sea-themed items from local artists, Tommy said.
However about two years ago, a city code compliance officer informed her that the bells were a code violation, and they would have to be brought inside. About every day, other violations were brought to her attention, such as sign regulations and restrictions on the items placed on our outside the historic building, she said.
“We were scared,” said co-owner Sarah Mueller of the code compliance visits. “We saw all these other retailers downtown closing down, and this was really overwhelming. We’re just trying to survive.”
Sarah and Tommy said since they opened their gallery four-and-a-half years ago, they’ve continued to lose business through the years. The faltering economy is partially to blame, but the process of obtaining the necessary permits and complying with the never-ending stream of city codes has been a barrier to their business, Tommy said.
“When we started, we thought the city had our back,” Tommy said. “We didn’t anticipate there would be so many permits and regulations.”
These concerns will be heard by city leaders Monday night, or “Regulatory Relief Day,” as councilmembers call it. The leaders announced the new effort on Friday at a press conference at Shorelines Gallery. The city will be hosting a workshop for small business owners and entrepreneurs to suggest some of the regulations that are preventing them from economic growth.
In a symbolic gesture to show the bipartisan effort, Councilmembers Tony Young, Kevin Faulconer and Lorie Zapf cut strands of red tape across the gallery’s columns. They were joined by members of the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Partnership and San Diego’s Building Industry Association.
“Today we are taking another step to aid struggling businesses,” City Council President Young said at the press conference. “At the workshop we want to hear from businesses about what city leaders can do to cut the red tape, streamline processes, and otherwise help companies grow and our economy prosper and add those additional jobs.”
Councilmember Lorie Zapf said the city will make an effort to relieve business owners from needless regulations, refine unclear regulations and cut back on repetitive regulations.
Yet Tony Khalil of the Neighborhood Code Compliance division in the city said he stands by the health and safety codes and building codes he helps to enforce.
“These codes are there for a purpose,” Khalil said. “They provide the standards to make sure people are living a good quality of life.”
Young wouldn’t say which codes exactly are under consideration for removal or revision. An example he did give was the $1,000 permit required for a restaurant or café to host entertainment, such as a piano player. By eliminating this regulation, a business may be able to attract more customers – and one more piano player will have a job, he said.
Some of these regulations may not be so easy to get rid of – such as those mandated by the federal and state governments. Others, such as city codes, can be overturned with a majority vote, Young said.
“It will be a way to shorten the time it takes to get past the city’s bureaucracy,” Faulconer added.
The workshop will be held Monday Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.