What took so long?
Four years after the housing crash and financial crisis hit Sacramento like a ton of bricks, now City Hall is actually doing something concrete to improve the local business climate.
Councilman Jay Schenirer deserves credit for leading the charge, and also for being inclusive. He sought input from the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the Region Builders, the American Institute of Architects and others.
For the plan to go anywhere, there will need to be close consultation with all those partners moving forward. Proposals will be woven into a broader five-year economic development strategy that City Manager John Shirey plans to unveil by year's end.
Roger Niello, the Metro Chamber's president and CEO, rightly emphasizes another point: It's absolutely critical that the city's efforts work in concert not in competition with Next Economy, the business-led initiative, a year in the making, that is trying to position the entire Sacramento region for long-term job growth and prosperity. That blueprint will be going before area elected officials in a few weeks for their buy-in.
Schenirer's plan includes looking at the city's business regulations and simplifying the city's 50-year-old zoning code.
He also recruited five UC Davis business management graduate students to study what has worked best in other cities and help put together a "toolbox" of economic incentives for Sacramento. Then, the city would try out the most promising ideas. For instance, the first-term councilman is intrigued by what Portland has done with neighborhood-specific growth strategies.
Schenirer also says the city should amp up its marketing because it doesn't do a very good job selling its positive attributes.
But it's not merely perception that Sacramento is less than friendly to business.
Small-business people and entrepreneurs have long complained about how time-consuming and costly it can be to open up or expand, and about how many picayune rules they have to follow. It's only become worse as budget cuts have reduced staff and lengthened waits for city inspections and permits. All those hurdles are on top of statewide regulations and taxes that sometimes get in the way.
Yet, as the city streamlines rules for business, officials must be careful about cutting corners too much. There's the recent cautionary tale of building permits that were illegally issued in the Natomas flood plain, forcing the city to spend $350,000 to demolish improper homes. An audit uncovered that Community Development employees routinely allowed construction without proper permits and failed to collect an estimated $2.3 million in building fees between 2007 and 2009.
These kinds of more mundane reforms to create a better business environment are required, no matter what happens with high-profile developments, notably the railyard and Downtown Plaza.
It's encouraging that at the kickoff news conference Tuesday for Schenirer's effort, much of the city's political and business leadership was behind him, including Mayor Kevin Johnson. The jolt from the announcements by Campbell Soup Co. and Comcast that they are closing local facilities and taking 1,000 jobs with them has captured their attention.
Figures out Friday showed that the region's jobless rate dropped to 9.7 percent in September, the first time since January 2009 it has been below double digits. It makes you wonder how many more people might have jobs if city officials had put a sustained focus on enhancing the business environment much earlier.
If City Hall can help private businesses create jobs and speed up the local economy's recovery, it would lessen so many of the problems saddling Sacramento. For one thing, tax revenue would increase, allowing the city to restore some public safety and other basic services.
This is what's really important, what the city should have been focusing on all along.