Removing small-business red tape

Anyone wishing to enter a Kafkaesque nightmare of bureaucracy needs only to try starting a small business in San Francisco. Traversing the labyrinth of required permits will routinely necessitate submitting the forms and fulfilling the regulations of as many as a dozen departments and agencies.

And that is only the beginning. Small businesses that successfully run the permit gantlet and open their doors for customers find themselves paying only-in-San-Francisco tax and fee burdens that their competitors in neighboring cities do not need to worry about.

The City’s more recent raids on the bottom-line revenues of struggling businesses include the Bay Area’s highest minimum wage and paid sick leave. There is also the matter of an employer spending requirement for the San Francisco universal health care program, which the Golden Gate Restaurant Association is seeking to overturn in court.

It would be difficult for any fair-minded political observer to counter the perception that The City has historically treated small businesses as corner-cutting nuisances with taxable cash flows. This attitude seemingly persists among too many municipal officials despite February’s city-commissioned report outlining how back-street small companies contribute more than one-fifth of The City’s payroll taxes.

Monday’s grand opening of the new Small Business Assistance Center in City Hall may not prove to be a total turnaround in San Francisco’s longtime neglect of the small companies that employ 60 percent of city workers. But it undoubtedly marks an important first step.

The one-stop assistance center will be staffed with case managers qualified to help individual businesses navigate their way through the excessively complicated regulations for starting a new company; how to make sales to the city government; and how to comply with all the state, federal and municipal requirements. Services are available by phone, Internet, walk-in or by appointment.

It is particularly encouraging that the Small Business Assistance Center was created because voters approved Proposition I last fall, which also allocated $750,000 for the center’s first year of operations. Proposition I bypassed opposition on the Board of Supervisors that might have blocked Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal. Every day, San Francisco residents have shown they recognize small employers’ vital importance to The City’s economic health.

Small-business advocates at the opening ceremonies lauded the arrival of the new assistance center’s greatly improved access to convenient one-stop services and guidance. But they cautioned that business owners still seem to encounter substantial resistance at City Hall and it remains to be seen how deep any changes will go.

The Examiner also joins in welcoming the assistance center and has every hope it will fulfill its potential. But we understand that much more would be needed before a predominantly pro-small-business atmosphere prevails in The City government, so it is necessary to wait and see what happens.

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