The Office of Small Business ain’t TurboTax

Courtesy PhotoPixar that: When voters approved Proposition I in 2007

Courtesy PhotoPixar that: When voters approved Proposition I in 2007

In November 2007, voters passed Proposition I, creating the Office of Small Business and directing it to issue, by April 2008, a report that recommended possible streamlining and consolidation of regulatory functions supervised by that agency. The idea was to make life easier for The City’s often-beleaguered small business.

By April 2009, the office had not issued the required report, so new Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, a former member of the Small Business Commission, convened a hearing to get to the bottom of the problem. At that hearing, the office’s executive director, Regina Dick-Endrizzi, explained that her agency was still gathering information and that the report would be forthcoming in mid-August 2009.

But that never happened.

Since the office reports to the mayor, in March, Chiu asked Mayor Ed Lee when the four-years-late report would be ready. Lee said it would be July 1.

But that never happened, either.

And so, at Tuesday’s meeting, Chiu again asked Lee — and I’m paraphrasing here — “Dude, when are we getting that report that people voted for back when ‘Ratatouille’ was still in theaters?”

To which Lee responded — and I am not paraphrasing here — “The work on the report is well under way, supervisor. And it is important that it get done in such a way that it is thorough and leads to real improvements for The City’s small businesses, and that will take a little bit more time.”

The mayor has apparently learned not to commit to deadlines.

To be fair, it’s not easy to get the heads of more than a dozen departments that regulate small businesses — like the Building Inspection, Public Works and Public Health departments — to talk about their inefficiencies and thus open the door to possible personnel cuts.

In August, after missing the July 1 deadline, Lee assigned Todd Rufo to work on the project full time. Rufo has worked with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development for five years and is aiming to have a project that was due in April 2008 actually done by June 30 — of 2013.

The departments are currently filling out surveys to identify the permits and fees that they administer. Rufo said the number is “in the hundreds.” Once the data are collected, the plan is to make industry-specific permit “maps” and then find efficiencies and streamline those processes.

“We want it to be like TurboTax for business,” Rufo said. “Just answer a few questions like, ‘Do you plan to serve alcohol?’” and it tells you what you need to do.”

Rufo is competent and enthusiastic, so there’s reason to hope for progress on our longstanding problem of serving up red tape and confusion to small entrepreneurs without the resources to hire experts. But after so many years of delay, I wouldn’t compare the end result to anything with the word “Turbo” in it.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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