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Searching for Santa Rosa's business-friendly solution


What should Santa Rosa stop doing to make the city more business friendly, and what should it start doing?

Those are the key questions the city's Economic Competitiveness Task Force began trying to answer Tuesday.

Rip out the parking meters. Have a public relations campaign. Eliminate the public art fee. Address the homeless problem. Give appreciation awards to businesses. Hire an ombudsman.

These and myriad other suggestions were floated by members of the 11-member body at its second meeting.

No consensus has yet formed, and the conversation will continue at the group's next meeting April 19.

But the group's first stab at the subject showed no shortage of ideas for how the city could build a stronger economy.

The first step is for Santa Rosa to figure out exactly what kind of city it wants to be, said Paul Schwartz, a commercial real estate broker.

"What do we want to be when we grow up?" Schwartz said. "We've got define that before we go out and market ourselves."

Former Mayor Jane Bender agreed that work needs to be done in defining what makes Santa Rosa special. She referred to the 2007 effort to rebrand the city "California Cornucopia" after years of calling itself "A City Designed for Living." The city and business groups paid a consultant $80,000 to come up with the new slogan and logo, but the city never officially adopted it.

"What is the brand of Santa Rosa?" she said. "Cornucopia? Is this working? What is Santa Rosa to a business looking to locate here?"

To some, it is a bureaucratic nightmare, said Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council.

Businesses are afraid to contact the city sometimes because they worry city workers will not help them but rather make their lives more difficult.

"They're always in regulator mode," Murray said. "It's like death by a thousand cuts."

Such a portrayal was by no means universal, however.

Stephen Gale, a business consultant and vice chairman of the city's Board of Public Utilities, said the "horror stories" about dealing with the city persist but are not an accurate reflection of the city today.

He pointed to a presentation by Chuck Regalia, director of community development, highlighting the city's efforts to streamline and cut red tape.

"I think the reality is that thing have changed," Gale said, "and they will begin to discover it when they begin processing projects gain."

A problem is that people read about and remember companies, such as Medtronic, Amy's Kitchen and others, moving jobs out of the area, said Bill Silver, dean of Sonoma State University's School of Business and Economics.

That begins to dominate the narrative, he said. The trick is for the city to focus on one project, such as transforming the former AT&T building, and get it done so the city can point to a recent success.

"Just do one," Silver said. "People want some sort of momentum."<NO1>

f the city today.

He pointed to an earlier presentation by, Chuck Regalia, director of community development, highlighting the city's efforts to streamline and cut red tape.

"I think the reality is that thing have changed," Gale said, "and they will begin to discover it when they begin processing projects gain."

One of the problems is that people read about and remember economic challenges the city faces, like Medtronic, Amy's Kitchen and others moving jobs out of the areas, said Bill Silver, dean of the school of business and economics at Sonoma State University.

That begins to dominate the narrative, he said. The trick is for the city to focus on one project - like transforming the former AT&amp;T building - and get it done so the city can point to a recent success.

"Just do one," Silver said. "People want some sort of momentum."