LCF Town Hall Focuses on Small Businesses

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Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK La Cañada Flintridge restaurant owner Bent Hansen (speaking) was among the members of a five-person panel who took part in state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman’s town hall on Friday at Flintridge Prep.
Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
La Cañada Flintridge restaurant owner Bent Hansen (speaking) was among the members of a five-person panel who took part in state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman’s town hall on Friday at Flintridge Prep.

State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman and a panel of experts spent last Friday evening at Flintridge Prep, batting around ideas about what measures might improve the landscape for small businesses in the state.
Those on stage might not have solved the most pressing issues during the 90-minute town hall, — titled “The State of Business in California” — but their conversation, before a crowd of more than 30 interested attendees, covered a lot of ground, from overregulation to the housing shortage.
Friedman, a former Glendale City Councilwoman who now chairs the Assembly’s Select Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, began the discussion by proclaiming that small businesses are vital to California’s overall economic health, even if they’re not treated that way.
“After being in Sacramento for a year, I’ve learned that large businesses have a very large voice in Sacramento,” she said. “What don’t have a large voice are small businesses. Sometimes their businesses are really drowned out by what we hear from the largest businesses — but we all know the majority of jobs are provided by small business, which provide the economic vitality of every city. I think they need attention.”
Bent Hansen, owner of Los Gringos Locos restaurant on Foothill Boulevard in LCF, was among the panelists who had Friedman’s attention Friday.
Hansen told Friedman he would appreciate the opportunity to “fix” problems identified by the state before incurring a penalty, echoing the sentiments of Leron Gubler, president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who complained of people who take advantage of regulations and find “one minute exception in a business and threaten to sue them unless they are paid, [which] basically amounts to extortion.”
Friedman asked Hansen whether he’d be in favor of a tiered penalty system, determined by the size of a company. Hansen — like the other panelists — said he wasn’t sure about that.
“If it’s the same thing going on, I’m not sure I agree with more money for a bigger company because they can afford it,” he said.
Hansen also talked about some of the changes he’s weathered in Los Gringos’ 21 years of operation, including having to adapt to wage increases.
“Another big one,” he said, “was when L.A. County started posting health department grades 10 or 12 years ago.”
He said health inspectors have focus on different things, even as the regulations remained constant.
“And that happens still today,” Hansen said. “We have a new inspector coming and we don’t know what they’re going to require from us; that just hangs over you.”
Elizabeth Shapiro — COO of Bizfed, an alliance of more than 160 business organizations and 325,000 business owners throughout L.A. County — offered survey data about other concerns that hang over small business owners.
The No. 1 issue, she said, is the same this year as it has been for the past seven years: Taxes and fees. Not far behind are the housing shortage and environmental regulations.
Specifically, Shapiro said the California Environmental Quality Act is the No. 1 thing hampering housing development in the states, which affects small businesses struggling to keep employees who often cannot find affordable lodging near where they work.
Friedman encouraged the panelists and the audience to bring such concerns to her.
“At the state level, it’s usually someone brings us something or a business runs into a problem,” she said. “You wonder why there are 600 bills. They’re not always earth-shattering laws but a large part of them were technical bills to clean up codes.”
And it’s tough to keep up with technology, she said.
“We can’t move fast enough in all cases,” Friedman said. “A great example in Washington, D.C., is autonomous vehicles: You’ve got a rule that says we’ve got to have side mirrors, but the robot doesn’t need side mirrors. So can we change the rules about what we need in a car?”
Friedman also surveyed the speakers about what businesses they believed would make wise investments.
Annie Argento, principal of Argento/Graham, an L.A.-based green building consulting company, advocated for clean, green technology.
“This is where the future is going,” Argento said. “Especially here in California where we have strong leaders who are pushing climate change and less reliability on fossil fuels.”

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