October 24, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

The Cumbersomeness of Opening a Business on Main Street

Lengthy permitting process frustrating owners

By Sam Catanzaro and Cailley Chella

Businesses on Main Street in Santa Monica are facing more issues than just high rent.

Over the past year, Santa Monica favorites such as Areal Restaurant, O’Brien’s and Bareburger have closed, and residents and stakeholders thought it was primarily high rents forcing businesses out.

In December 2018, the Santa Monica Mirror reported that many restaurants and shops on Main Street were closing due to a combination of factors including rent increases, the increased cost of labor and products and reduced foot traffic due to market forces like online retail and the surge of online food and grocery delivery.

According to Main Street Business Improvement Association Executive Director Hunter Hall, however, there is another factor at play: the nature of opening a business in Santa Monica.

“Santa Monica is still trying to overcome its reputation as being a cumbersome city to open and operate a business in,” Hall told the Santa Monica Mirror in January.

Johnathan Trivas rents the building at 2736 Main Street, right across from his business Main Squeeze. He has rented the building for almost three years and has been trying to convert the space into a healthy-eating-community-style restaurant. He says the City of Santa Monica has not made things easy for him.  

“Maybe they are just understaffed,” Trivas said. “We pay such high taxes; real estate taxes and sales taxes around here, you would think that they could solve a lot of this by hiring three or four more people in planning.”

According to Trivas, there is a lag between the time it takes for the City to respond to submitted plans and that even once they do, there are times when they do not provide all the information required right away. For example, Trivas was told after months submitting plans that he actually needed to install an expensive sprinkler system. In that time, Trivas spent tens of dollars on rent

“If each stage back and forth instead was three months instead of six weeks, you are ultimately talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Trivas said.

Because of this, Trivas has a concern that many surrounding residents have as well.

“I think you are going to see a lot more big corporations who are going to be the only people who can afford to go through this process,” Trivas said.

Trivas has lived in Santa Monica for 20 years, and over that time has seen other people face similar challenges opening businesses in the city.  

“My friend who did a restaurant down the street, from beginning to end it took him three years and three months to open,” Trivas said.

In response to these concerns, the City of Santa Monica responded by saying that time it will take a business to open is dependent on many factors.

“There isn’t a one size fits all answer because it depends on whether a business requires physical alterations and the permitting required at the county and state level,” said Constance Farrell, Public Information Officer for the City of Santa Monica.

For example, planning, zoning, alcohol permits and building safety require City of Santa Monica permits. Food-related health permits come from Los Angeles County while alcoholic beverage control licenses must be acquired from the State of California. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act must be done at both a city and federal level.

For more information on opening a business in Santa Monica, visit https://tinyurl.com/yyuxdqnc.

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