Business / Economy

COMMENTARY: SJB Planning Commission rescinds business ordinance after lawsuit

San Juan Bautista Planning Commission acted to rescind a new ordinance that would have relaxed regulations regarding formula busineses

At its meeting on Aug. 5, the San Juan Bautista Planning Commission, by a 4-1 vote, recommended to the City Council that it rescind Ordinance 2014-01, which relaxed the provisions of the Municipal Code to allow the consideration of permit applications for formula visitor accommodations and formula businesses. Unique to this action was the fact that the commission had recommended the adoption of the ordinance at its regular meeting in February 2104 after several public meetings with public input.

Ordinance 2014-01 was adopted on March 14, 2014 and took effect on April 18. On June 13, however, a lawsuit was filed by the SSL Law Firm LLP on behalf of the Alliance of Concerned Citizens Organized for Responsible Development (ACCORD) against the City Council and the City. The essence of the lawsuit was to force the city to revert the new development process to business as usual before the change.

Following extensive evaluation of the city’s financial position by the city’s staff, the City Council and the city attorney, it was determined that the cost to defend the city’s position was far outweighed by the costs of its pressing needs to resolve the current water issues including the nitrate problems, the water softening project and new wells. The first step in the process was a recommendation from the Planning Commission.

Ordinance 2007-14, among other things, restricted formula businesses, formula restaurants and formula visitor accommodations, a protectionist ordinance to maintain the smallness and historical ambiance of the city. In the meantime, the city has continued to decline and develop serious infrastructure problems, such as water and streets and a very limited financial means to address them. City Hall has received many proposals for new businesses that had to be turned away because the ordinance prohibited them. Several of these businesses would have provided needed services and sales taxes but were not allowed the chance to do so.

In addition to the protectionist ideas, charges have been made that if SJB goes “corporate," it would destroy the character of the city.  If corporate wants to come to San Juan Bautista it sees a market that exists because of what the city has to offer. But, the bottom line is that the city adopts the rules and policies and the Planning Commission carries them out. Corporate cannot run rampant in the city unless the city lets it happen. The Planning Commission is the guardian of the gates. 

Clear policies and local support indicate a stable government and a good place to do business. They would also allow for the diversity in businesses that the city badly needs.

The decision to rescind Ordinance 2014-01 was not taken lightly by the Planning Commission because of the potential negative impacts to the city’s growth. The reality of the financial strains to the city forced the action.

Ernest Franco