Palo Alto is famous for its love of data and wealth of jobs. But when it comes to data about jobs, city officials often find themselves scratching their heads and grasping for answers.
Unlike most cities, Palo Alto does not have a business registry or business licenses, a factor that forces officials to offer estimates and educated guesses. Now, four members of the City Council are looking to change that.
In a memo, council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein, Marc Berman and Pat Burt, urge that the city create a business registry as soon as possible. The registry, they say, is needed to "answer such basic questions as how many people work in Palo Alto and for what types of businesses."
"Impacts of commercial development and activity, such as traffic and parking impacts, are at the forefront of community concerns," the memo states. "The City Council made addressing these issues a council priority in 2013 and again in 2014. However, the City lacks adequate, reliable, and updated data to analyze the issues, structure best policies or programs and to measure their effects."
The council members propose that staff return no later than the end of March with a proposal for an online registry, fees limited to cost recovery, a "simplified, low-cost questionnaire" for very small businesses (home-based businesses would be exempted); and questions that are "designed to obtain information on the number of employees, types of businesses and other information that would be valuable for effective planning purposes."
Though the council members' proposal was sparked by the city's ambitious traffic and parking initiatives, the city's push for a business registry is far from new. In 2009, the council asked voters to approve a business-license tax based on gross receipts. The goals of the proposal were to both raise money at a time of plummeting revenues and to gather information about local businesses. That plan fizzled in November, when 57 percent of voters shot down Measure A.
This time around, the goal is limited to getting information. In the memo, council members note that Palo Alto is "one of the few cities in the region without a business registry or a business license."
"Most cities rely on these tools for obtaining and analyzing critical information about the characteristics of businesses in their communities such as informing zoning decisions and public safety planning and service response."