I’m writing this column from City Hall. I came down here to get a business permit, and I’m waiting in this line. Judging from how slow this line is moving, and if I stand on my tiptoes and look at how many people are in front of me, it looks like it’ll take me, oh, maybe 18 months more. This could be a long column.
I guess it’s not so bad waiting here. I’ve got this cozy tent. I hired a maid twice a week. Good cable service.
Nice neighbors, too. Todd, a guy in a different line, the one to the left of mine, is a fine middle-age man (just don’t lend him money before the Friday night poker game). His line’s even slower than mine. He came a long time ago to get a license to open a shop because he had this innovative idea to rent videos so people can watch movies at home. He’s worried that if his line doesn’t move more quickly, by the time he gets his permit, VHS tapes may be passé.
Jane, a woman who’s been waiting in the line to the right of mine, is kind of the rebel type. One night, she and a band of merry pranksters removed the statue that was here, blind justice or some such, and replaced it with their own homemade statue of a guy staring at his wristwatch.
At least, that’s what Jane said it is. It’s hard for me to make out what that statue is, since it’s been up there so long it’s covered with cobwebs and thick dust.
Our wait is not at all atypical for business people in Los Angeles. You may have read an article we published in the Business Journal’s Feb. 1 issue. Reporter Howard Fine interviewed a developer who spent 18 months getting permits from the city just to convert an old commercial building in downtown Los Angeles into 37 lofts. There were a dozen or so departments he needed to get sign-offs from, each with its own people, its own rules. Most departments needed to conduct their own inspections. Inspections got delayed.
Fine also interviewed a woman who spent two years getting her permits from the city. You might – might – understand it if she wanted to open some exotic business dealing with toxic substances. But she wanted to open a Mexican restaurant. Now, call this a reckless guess, but I’ll bet Los Angeles City Hall has had some experience permitting Mexican restaurants.
In that same article, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he was still committed to helping business people by starting his 12-to-2 plan. That way, a supplicant would only need to get permits from two departments instead of 12. But he proposed that two years ago, and it still hasn’t happened. He’s probably stuck in line, waiting to get permits for that idea.
Now here’s the real scary part – and the reason I’m writing this now: As bad as it has been, it could get worse. With the city’s financial crisis and all the looming staff cuts – whether 3,000 or 4,000 or however many thousand this week – you’ve got to figure deep cuts will occur in all those departments that serve up business permits. You thought inspections got delayed before.
And, of course, this is doubly critical in this recessionary time, when businesses really need this city … Hey, wait! What’s this?
I don’t believe my eyes. The man way up at the very front of the line is walking away. He’s got a paper in his hand. He got a permit! And the clerk just yelled, “Next!”
Sorry, I’ve gotta go. I need to step up one whole place in line. Move the tent. Meet my new neighbors.