Where Your $6 Billion Goes: The SF City Committee Shuffle

San Francisco is full of small businesses, so this seems like a great idea – so good I’m amazed no one thought of it sooner. Except that … wait …they did. In fact, I think Newsom did.
By Benjamin Wachs

It’s a big week for bureaucracy in San Francisco. Not only will the Board of Supervisors select new members forseven different city committees (did you know we have one on immigrant rights?), but Mayor Gavin Newsom has proposed creating a whole new agency for even more people to be appointed to. Because you can never have too many.

This morning, hizzoner held what must be the first government press conference ever at a“Party Store” location to propose a “Small Business Assistance Center” – described by Deputy Communications Director David Miree as a “one stop shopping center” to help small business owners and entrepreneurs navigate the city’s complex maze of forms, regulations, and city agencies.

San Francisco is full of small businesses, so this seems like a great idea – so good I’m amazed no one thought of it sooner. Except that … wait …they did. In fact, I think Newsom did.

Checking the city government phone book, I see that we already have a “Back Streets Business Advisory Board,” which “is charged with seeking ways to develop and implement focused policies and programs that encourage the retention and expansion of Back Streets businesses.”

Or, is that not the same thing? Close but no cigar? Well, it doesn’t matter, because San Francisco also already has a “Small Business Commission” which “functions as the city's central point of information and referral for small businesses located in the City and County of San Francisco.”

It even runs a a “bizInfo” center which “will simplify the process of doing business in San Francisco.” It has business assistance programs, answers questions about city forms and bureaucracy, and information on tax credits. It has a toll free number.

That sounds like exactly the same thing the mayor’s now proposing to do (again) … doesn’t it? Or is there a subtle distinction between “central point of information and referral” and “one stop shopping center for help navigating through the process” that I don’t understand?

There is, according to Miree.

“(The Small Business Assistance Center) would be an operation here in city hall where businesses would be able to come in during 9 - 5 and get this type of assistance, whereas the (Small Business Commission) is more of a regulatory body and also helping to promulgate different type of assistance, guidelines and directives,” he said.

Ah … so … this new government body would operate out of city hall and have regular business hours. Got it.

Great, except, doesn’t the “Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development” already do that, too?

“It could be considered to,” Miree admits. “But this would be an existing on its own facility, to assist small business entrepreneurs. The others will be splitting their time.”

So … somebody else, in fact three other somebody elses, already does this stuff but we need another person doing it too because they’ll have their own facility.

This only makes sense if you assume -- as I guess Newsom does -- that a bigger mousetrap is the same thing as a better mousetrap. Has it honestly never occurred to anybody at city hall that maybe the reason small businesses have such a hard time navigating city agencies is that there are so many city agencies to navigate?

Newsom says the new facility needs almost a million dollars, which would have to be approved by voters this November. I would humbly suggest consolidating – or even eliminating – a bunch of government agencies to actually accomplish the same thing and save us money too.

We have to stop the madness before we run out of people to staff these committees. Meanwhile, I’m sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring: I’m hoping to catch a sweet spot on the “Assessment Appeals Board No. 2.”

That’s out of 3 … because, once again, 1 is never enough.


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