Two years ago, Stephan and Susi Bachofner-Binder, longtime owners of On the Waterfront Café in Venice, opened a new restaurant in Westchester.

Between paying $17,000 for a grease trap that would never be used, waiting three months for plan review, having to tear up a wall for pipe inspection, and waiting two months for a $25 switch that could only be installed by one authorized company, Stephan said he spent $37,000, including rent for two months, with no revenue coming in.

“At the time, I was at the point of never investing a dime in the city anymore,” he says. “They made it so hard. The regulations changed because people like me got so upset.”

The business climate is transitioning. It has already been announced that international architecture firm Gensler is moving downtown, and some exciting news for Venice is that Google is moving an office to Main Street. However, these are large companies. What about the smaller businesses that struggle to keep afloat in these recessionary times and those wanting to open up?

At a recent Venice Chamber of Commerce luncheon, members were treated to a Small Business Initiative presentation made by First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, whom Los Angeles magazine calls a “business and economics czar.”

The initiative is led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Economic and Business Policy (OEBP). It is expected to help unlock doors to much-needed resources for the small business community, as well as provide the businesses with an advocate solely dedicated to their specific needs.

According to the office, the initiative focuses on three areas with specific goals:

Outreach: Proactively engage and serve as the main point of contact for the broader small business community to help business owners interact more efficiently and effortlessly with the city of Los Angeles;

Streamlining Bureaucracy: Serve as a voice within City Hall by working directly with city departments to ensure that the needs of small businesses are adequately addressed; and

Acccess to Resources: Identify and mobilize resources available to small businesses from the city, state and federal governments, and private sector in order to provide quality assistance, identify procurement opportunities and increase access to capital.

Beutner serves as first deputy mayor and chief executive for Economic and Business Policy for the city of Los Angeles. In his role as first deputy mayor, he oversees 13 city departments ranging from planning and building and safety to housing and homeless.

His responsibilities include working with the departments to help them provide a better level of service (at a lower cost) to their customers, including businesses and taxpayers alike; developing and implementing policy reform to foster a better regulatory and economic environment in Los Angeles; and communicating with civic groups, businesses and labor leaders.

Beutner brings an extensive financial background and noteworthy accomplishments in both the private and public sector. At the age of 29, he became the youngest partner ever at The Blackstone Group, one of the world’s leading investment and advisory firms.

He entered the public sector at the United States Department of State in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when he led a team which helped the struggling Russian government and people in their country transition to a market economy. He then co-founded the investment banking firm Evercore Partners with former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman. As president and co-chief executive officer, Beutner helped build Evercore into a leading global firm with offices in the U.S. and around the world.

The small business team will also include Executive Director of the Minority Business Opportunity Center Linda Smith; Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Business Policy Marcella Ayala; and Los Angeles City Fellow Peter Vu.

The small business Initiative is already taking steps to increase the amount of capital available to small businesses in Los Angeles. The team’s efforts led Goldman Sachs to choose Los Angeles as a pilot city for its 10,000 Small Business initiative. The Goldman program will provide $20 million in loans to small businesses in underserved communities, according to the office.

In addition, the city has partnered with the Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) to bring its yearly conference back to Los Angeles for only the second time in seven years. The Capital Connections group is designed to stimulate the flow of capital to inner-city businesses.

Efforts have been made in the past to streamline the bureaucracy of doing business in the city of Los Angeles, but they have failed, Beutner said.

“What we are trying to do now is not only develop a set of ideas of how to make change but actually follow through and do it,” Beutner says.

The most concrete example is that the permit time to open a restaurant has been cut in half, he said.

“That’s progress,” he adds. “Real change is about working to change a culture, working to hold people accountable, setting a series of objectives and measuring yourself. It takes commitment and focus.”

One of the things Beutner says he has learned is “a willingness to measure ourselves to see if we are actually delivering in a different fashion than in the past.”

“A lot of bureaucracies are good at making announcements,” he says, “but they’re not so good following through at measuring to see if whether anything actually has been done.”

Beutner acknowledges that this type of approach is applicable across almost everything the city does. “We ought to be setting clearer objectives for what our goals are in anything the city does to the services it delivers to the communities,” he says.

“We ought to be measuring how well we do that and, if we are not delivering on a constant basis, we need to make some changes and do a better job. Cities are not immune to being objectively measured – ours shouldn’t be. If we’re not doing the right thing or if we’re not doing it fast enough, or if we’re not providing it cost effectively, we’ve got to find a different way of doing it.”

For more information on the Small Business Initiative, please contact Todd Wilson at (213) 978-6397 or todd.wilson@lacity.org.

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