Last Friday I attended a part of what has now become institutionalized as a biennial ceremony that passes for efforts to develop business in Nevada County. I think I have attended about five of these during the years we’ve lived here. This one featured the elected city councils and the county’s Board of Supervisors as the target audience. The public was invited to witness the doings and have a short Q&A at the end.
I lasted through the first panel presentation which included Machen MacDonald (Sierra Commons Faculty), Steven Frisch (Sierra Business Council), and Brent Smith (Sierra Economic Development Corp). Messrs Frisch and Smith gave extended and informative presentations of what their organizations do to foster business in the Sierra. Mr MacDonald stood up and mumbled something about businesses “not being in alignment” which turned out a bit too complex for this commentator to follow – mercifully, the message was short and he sat down.
Mr Smith focused on the small business problem of access to money and broadband connectivity. It turns out that banks have tightened credit enormously in the last years, willing to lend only to squeaky clean enterprises most of whom don’t need the money. The bottom line here is that business loan applications are way down. Brent also outlined some sleazy new approaches that some banks are attempting use as lending products, expressed some contempt for ‘payday lenders’ who charge egregious interest, and then offered SEDCorp as a more accessible source of money. He stated that SEDCorp is prepared to make fully collateralized loans that range from $1,000 to $250,000.
But my clear takeaway from all the speakers and the questions from the electeds was the confirmation that governments (fed, state, local) remain as the biggest impediments to starting and operating a business in California. At the intermission I had a chance to talk with Supervisors Nate Beason, Terry Lamphier, and Ed Scofield before I headed out. My objective was to get their current sense of how a local government, our county in particular, could proactively and unilaterally soften the impact of regulations which range from repressive through inane to insane. I have brought this notion up in public communications with the BoS, and thought I’d give it another shot. (In these pages some of these sentiments can be found by searching ‘just say no’.)
The basic thesis here is that NOTHING will relieve the situation, let alone returning more local control, without a strong, militant, and persistent response from the grassroots jurisdictions. And the types of response that I’d like to explore are what might come under ‘interpretive latitude’ when it comes to implementing regulations at the county and city levels. In short, cut some slack to the applicants and business enterprises in areas that succumb to common sense (a resource in short supply in bureaucracies). And this may require asking for forgiveness, even mercy, rather than permission of the higher ups.
The hip level response – it really doesn’t require higher processing when the mind is made up – is that we can’t do that because of what happens if we’re caught, or something cracks or craps out, and the county is sued. This assumes, of course, that common sense was not applied in granting such interpretive latitude, or that we advertized its application. With Supe Scofield it was an impossible cognitive barrier to penetrate - not only could it not be done, it couldn’t even be considered.
Supervisor Beason’s approach appeared to be a future program of review in which the county would pull back and/or soften some of the regulations over which it has jurisdiction. He offered that this may be some small but significant fraction. Interpretive latitude was for him not in the cards.
Surprisingly, our new liberal supervisor, Terry Lamphier was most responsive to the notion of clawing back local control, and we had a delightful conversation about the what-ifs. The burrs under Terry’s blanket involved recent state regulations on the sale of raw milk, and the public sale of foods prepared in private kitchens (no more cookie sales at the church?).
Returning now to a longer look at how last Friday’s séance gets repeated, I cite an email on the topic that my friend Russ Steele sent me -
Russ Steele’s 14sep12 email - The problems in the past is that at the end of these meetings there is never any clear definition of where the community wants to be in 10 years and what actions were necessary to get there. Every group in the conference room has a different vision of what the community should be in ten years. There cannot be multiple paths of multiple futures. We have decide as community where we want to be and the best path to take. The community has never been able to define an acceptable joint future, or choose the paths to that future. If your do not know where the there is, you cannot get there from here.
Anyone attempting to define the future is attacked by all the tribes with their alternative visions of where we need to be in 10 years. This has been going on since1988, when I first got involved in going to community visioning and planning the futures sessions. One of the biggest problems is a bunch of over 60s are planning a future that the under 40s are going have to create and live with, yet the under 40s are never in the room. Big disconnect!
Some day the community will hit economic bottom and some charismatic leader will step up and lead the tribes into the future. Until then we talk about our individual futures and do nothing.
I hope your report is more positive than my past history with these type of joint meetings, where everyone comes away feeling good and then does nothing, other than start planning the next revival two years down the road.
It is my sad duty to pass on that my spies, who remained after my timely departure, reported no such progress. If the pattern of the past is followed, it will take about three to six months to realize that nothing came of it. And it will then be time to start constructing the next simulacrum of the next economic development gooney bird, as did the cargo cultists of Papua-New Guinea after WW2. After all, local traditions must be maintained. (see ‘California’s Purple Cargo Cults’)
But in sum I have to conclude that we don’t have the political will in this county to break through any imposed or self-inflicted regulatory barriers – the main game of our politicians is to play ‘duck and cover’ between these biennial breast beatings. And for promoting business development, the main thing that entrepreneurs and business owners ask of government is just to get the hell out of the way.