Business & Economy

Here's how 1 councilman's new initiative aims to ease small LA business owners' woes

Nguyen Tran socializes in his Echo Park restaurant, Starry Kitchen.
Nguyen Tran socializes in his Echo Park restaurant, Starry Kitchen.
Photo courtesy of Nguyen Tran

The process of opening a restaurant in Los Angeles is notoriously difficult — confusing regulations, expensive fees, endless bureaucracy, interminable waits.

Just ask Nguyen Tran. He and his wife spent a year and a half struggling to open their Echo Park restaurant, Button Mash. Four of those months were spent waiting for a sprinkler inspection — and that was after they'd already paid a hefty deposit.

"Even then we didn't know when that person was coming out," Tran says. "If you have cable, they'll at least give you a window of time. As frustrating as that is, it's not as frustrating as making a $10,000 check and hoping someone shows up. If they don't show up, you pretty much can't open."

By the time the inspection finally occurred, many of the contractors he hoped to work with had moved on to other jobs, causing further delays.

L.A. City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell hopes to avoid precisely that sort of regulatory roadblock with a series of proposals he has dubbed "Open for Business." The goal is to smooth out various city regulations that make life difficult for business owners, especially small business owners.

The proposals, which O’Farrell plans to refer to L.A. City Council committees before crafting them into policy, include:

O’Farrell says he hopes to shift the attitude at City Hall and make it more service-oriented and friendly toward small business owners. He also wants to improve coordination between city departments.

“[The departments] don’t talk to one another, nor are they motivated to,” he says. “And through that culture of indifference, it’s created quite a beast that businesses have to deal with for just the easiest, non-controversial permitting needs that they have.”

Retail businesses like nail salons, auto repair shops and restaurants would likely be most affected by these sorts of rule changes.

Tran thinks that even if the new initiatives don't fix all the problems associated with starting a business in L.A., he's relieved to see city officials address the issue. 

"Whatever action finally gets put through and the language that gets settled on, it'll make it at least easier than it is now," he says. "And that is already worthwhile."