Saturday, February 26, 2011

CityWatchLA - LACityWorks! Taking Care of Business

CityWatch, Feb 25, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 16


If the City of LA is serious about taking care of LA’s business community, stimulating the local economy, creating more jobs, and attracting new business, then City Hall will get busy leveraging federal Small Business Jobs Act funding to create a one-stop “LACityWorks” shop that supports LA business.

The model for this concept can be found at FilmLA, a non-profit with a simple mission, to facilitate filming in the Los Angeles area. With a simple phone call or an even simpler online interaction, large studios and student films alike can navigate the many jurisdictions of LA County, they can pull permits, they can quickly navigate the rules and regulations, and they can rely on FilmLA to create common ground solutions when problems arise. FilmLA was created by Mayor Riordan in an effort to halt runaway film production and to support LA’s position as the entertainment production capital of the world.

There was a bit of a learning curve for everybody, at City Hall and on location, but ultimately the evidence is there that a non-profit can leverage funding that can support business, both large and small, and it can take place quickly.

LA’s business community is represented by a vast array of organizations, all jockeying for position in an environment that repeatedly generates lose-lose solutions that continue to create obstacles.

At yesterday’s Transportation Committee, Councilman Tom LaBonge’s Food Truck motion was on the agenda and the audience was filled with speakers from neighborhood councils, Business Improvement Districts, Chambers of Commerce, Homeowners Associations, trade organizations and the general public. All that was missing was LaBonge, the author of the motion. The motion was continued to a later date and the public in attendance enjoyed 60 seconds each of Kabuki Theatre public comment.

This is no way to run a Great City!

If LACityWorks were to use the FilmLA model for supporting local business, they’d have a Board of Directors filled with representatives from the chambers, from the trade organizations, from the community, from local and regional government, and from the streets of LA where the business takes place.

LACityWorks would offer businesses, both large and small, support in navigating the Byzantine process that is even bigger than the City of LA. Food Truck operators, for example, must navigate several municipalities and their unique permitting rules, abide by LA County health codes, drive and park according to California Vehicle Code, and find time to comply with federal and state tax codes.

FilmLA offers local and visiting film production companies one-stop shop assistance in navigating the many jurisdictions and authorities in LA County.

By contrast, LA’s City Hall offers local businesses “that’s out of our jurisdiction!” responses to requests for assistance that involve the State, the County, the LAUSD, the Metro, the Army Corps of Engineers, Flood Control, Caltrans, the Sheriff’s Department, or anyone else who has a piece of our streets.

If this seems extreme, consider that Venice Blvd. belongs to the State; Universal City is on County land; the LAUSD is the largest developer in the City of LA; the Metro is the second largest developer in the City of LA; and the City of LA’s inability to navigate its own halls leave the people of LA adrift in a jurisdictional quagmire that chokes business, both small and large.

FilmLA also provides operational guidance for production companies and the people who actually do the work. There is a code, a set of rules that provide the simple “do no harm!” approach to film production that is the foundation of a win-win solution.

With success and popularity comes an opportunity to mitigate the resulting tensions and competition for resources and FilmLA mediates, provides monitors, and brings together stakeholders in the creation of long-term solutions.

City Hall, by contrast, orders reports, fumbles meetings, measures outrage and postpones contentious items, demonstrating an inability to commit to long-term sustainable solutions.

FilmLA offers their clients support in navigating the many regulatory bodies and in pulling the necessary permits and processing the paperwork. Whether working with animals, minors, pyrotechnics, traffic or any of a limitless number of conditions, the need for permitting and oversight can be overwhelming. Yet it works because FilmLA offers the support.

By contrast, the City of LA is preparing to send penalty letters to people who worked last year and were paid as independent contractors. Pity the poor employee who showed up to work and collected a 1099 form but failed to register with the City of LA as a business. The threat of a significant fine that only applies to the few is a demonstration of the inherent systemic hostility that LA business and employees encounter in Los Angeles.

FilmLA also collected data that was used to support and encourage the film industry, data that can be used to fine tune programming and drive efficiencies and strengthen the industry.

By contrast, the City of LA is still unclear on how to support local businesses in simply offering their goods and services to city, state, and local governments. Forget about the larger local economy.

FilmLA has experienced a rough road over the last decade and the work is not done. But we are now in a position to benefit from that journey and put the lessons learned to work supporting LA’s business community.

The City of LA’s local economy has a huge need that is unmet by the local chambers, the local trade organizations, the local business districts, the local leadership and the community organizations. More specifically, LA is experiencing a crisis of Leadership, inside City Hall and on the streets where the business takes place.

Now is the time for the people of LA to come together and to create a city that works.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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