Palo Alto Councilmembers Think Too Much Business in Downtown: Proposes Registry

Four members of the Palo Alto City Council say a business registry is needed to solve traffic and parking problems that have risen to the forefront in recent years.
On Monday, Marc Berman, Pat Burt, Karen Holman and Larry Klein plan to ask the rest of the council to direct city staff to return no later than the end of March with a proposal for a registry.traffic and parking in Palo Alto

“Impacts of commercial development and activity, such as traffic and parking impacts, are at the forefront of community concerns,” the council members wrote in a two-page “colleagues’ memo” released Wednesday. “However, the city lacks adequate, reliable and updated data to analyze the issues, structure best policies or programs and to measure their effects.

Palo Alto is one of the few cities in the Bay Area without a business registry or business license tax, according to the memo. A registry would help answer “basic questions” such as how many people work in the city and for what types of businesses.

“Most cities rely on these tools for obtaining and analyzing critical information about the characteristics of businesses in their communities for purposes such as informing zoning decisions and public safety planning and service response,” the council members wrote.

More specifically, the data is expected to help the council fulfill its promise to develop an effective transportation demand management program.

The business registry envisioned by the council members would be online to “reduce costs, accelerate implementation and provide for efficient data analysis.” The memo also calls for a simplified and low-cost questionnaire for “very small” businesses and exemptions for home-based enterprises.

Fees, the council members wrote, should be limited to cost recovery.

City Manager James Keene and City Attorney Molly Stump reviewed the memo and noted that the success of a business registry will hinge on “effective implementation and enforcement methods for collecting data.” To keep start-up costs low, city staff plans to evaluate existing software programs, they said.

Russ Cohen, executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, said his organization has yet to take an official stance on the proposal but a business registry would provide useful data.
“Without a registry, you don’t know how many employees a particular business has,” he said. “And if you don’t know how many employees a business has, you don’t know how many parking spaces the business needs.”

Cohen noted that his organization is focused on making downtown “safe, spotless and successful,” not collecting data on businesses.

Whether the business community backs a registry will depend on whether it is used as to generate revenue, Cohen said, adding that high rents and parking-related fees already make it expensive to operate in downtown.

“At some point, you reach the tipping point of taxation and you make it very difficult to do business in downtown,” he said. “The question the council has to ask itself is, ‘How much can we tax businesses before they leave?’ “

Shelly Roberson


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