Our Laguna: Open for Business meetings find favor with community

August 02, 2012|By Barbara Diamond
  • Susan Elliott at Twig in Laguna Beach.
Susan Elliott at Twig in Laguna Beach. (Coastline Pilot )

Some city officials think Laguna gets a bad rap for being business averse. So much so that improving customer service at City Hall for new businesses has become a priority.

Recommendations of the council's Long Term Business Assistance Task Force have been implemented to assist new businesses in getting started and properly establishing themselves so they can prosper.

"We did a study on what businesses residents wanted and which ones already open that they liked," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, task force co-chair with Councilwoman Toni Iseman. "Coast Hardware was No. 1 for its customer service."

"We worked with the Visitors Bureau to develop neighborhood maps and with the Chamber of Commerce on ways to recruit and retain businesses that would succeed in Laguna," she added.

Another recommendation was a forum at which potential business owners could ask questions in an informal atmosphere where they would feel more at ease.


Dubbed "Open for Business" by task force member and long-time Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson, the forum was supported by the Policies Subcommittee, chaired by architectural designer and contractor Gregg Abel.

It is considered a winner.

"I think many people who have been in Laguna a long time and wanted to open a business felt it was a difficult process," Pearson said.

Open for Business has helped them.

"No applications for conditional use permits have been turned down in 2 1/2 years because the applicants understand how to work with the city within the guidelines to assure approval," Pearson said.

All businesses in Laguna need a business license. Some need conditional use permits, depending on the zone where the business is to be located. Zones have approved uses, such as light manufacturing in the M-1A zone in Laguna Canyon, and conditional uses — hence the permit.

Ninety potential business owners have attended Open for Business meetings to learn how to untangle the red tape. Not everyone came away happy, but a lot of them did.

According to a survey of 29 participants, 23 found the forums to be beneficial.

Susan Elliott was a computer programmer for more than 30 years, but she always yearned for an outlet for her creative side. In her spare time, she painted lamps, made jewelry and sewed skirts out of crocheted tablecloths.

"But I kept telling my husband that I wanted to open a store — and I didn't even know how to operate a cash register," said Elliott, a resident for 19 years and mother of Will, 19, and Irene, 22.

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