Santa Cruz virtually cuts red tape


Starting a business is hard work and a lot of fun. And then there’s the stuff that isn’t much fun and is mind numbing rather than difficult. Navigating the maze of local regulations and permits usually falls into this middle ground.

The City of Santa Cruz has a twenty first century answer to this problem, called OpenCounter. It’s a website where you can enter a few quick facts about yourself and your new business, and then it’ll get into the necessary details.

You can take a good look at the process, albeit it at a beta level. It’ll tell you if the type of business you’re planning is allowed at the location you want to put it. Then it’ll walk you through use and building permits, parking standards, a business license and some other requirements such as a fictitious name statement.

Not all the features are up and running yet. Things like traffic impact fees, utilities and environmental health and safety are still to come. But you’ll get the flavor of it.

The processes themselves haven’t been streamlined or otherwise updated. The idea behind the project was to try to figure out how to make the best of a complex, legacy system.

“The interface proposed has a lot in common with TurboTax, simplifying the interface between small business owners and City Hall. We’re using technology to make government more efficient, transparent and easier to work with for small business owners.” Mayor Ryan Coonerty

The muscle behind the project came from Code for America, which calls itself a “peace corps for geeks.” Smart, young programmers dedicated a year of their time to building this open source application, in the hopes that it’ll be adopted and adapted by cities and counties all across the country.

The City of Santa Cruz backed it with staff, most notably Peter Koht from the economic development team, and some cash. And, most importantly, the cooperation of the people and departments involved. It gives hope that entrepreneurs will get the same in Santa Cruz.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.