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City officials eye a business fee

Council balks at annual charge for zoning certificate, which staffers say is not a tax.

July 20, 2012|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Peter Kong, a sales associate at Lexus of Glendale, works with a customer who wished not to be identified.
Peter Kong, a sales associate at Lexus of Glendale, works… (Glendale News-Press )

City officials have floated a $150 annual fee to track company types and spot zoning code violations, but the proposal received push-back this week from some City Council members.

“This, to me, looks, smells like a business license tax,” said Councilman Rafi Manoukian at a City Hall meeting Tuesday. “If we want to help our businesses, I think we should stay out of their business.”

But City Manager Scott Ochoa said the fee wasn't a tax because the money gained would only cover the cost of processing the new fee. It would not be used to cover other city expenditures, he said.

Currently, businesses pay about $215 for a zoning-use certificate when they open. The proposal would require an annual $150 certificate.

Assistant Director of Planning Tim Foy said many new businesses may not get a zoning-use certificate, and some operate in illegal zones. An annual fee paid by all businesses would better give officials the ability to combat these issues, he said.

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Councilwoman Laura Friedman said she was against onerous fees for businesses, but also thought the city needed a way to know which businesses are where. Mayor Frank Quintero echoed her sentiments.

Reached by phone, Johnny Harrison, president of the Brand Boulevard of Cars and owner of Lexus of Glendale, said city officials should consider other options. Since he runs a law-abiding business, Harrison said, he didn't want to pay a fee aimed at keeping other firms from breaking the law.

“I think there has to be a better way to track,” he said.

At the meeting, Friedman noted that a census of businesses in the San Fernando Corridor — done by interns — allowed officials to design a Creative Corridor offering perks to media, design and entertainment businesses.

Without knowing what businesses are out there, the city can't cater to them, Friedman said.

“That's the upside, but the downside is scarier than the upside,” said Councilman Ara Najarian, noting that he'd be ticked off if he had to pay annually for a zoning-use certificate for his Glendale law office.

The proposed fee comes as Los Angeles is moving to curb its business taxes. In July, the Los Angeles City Council eliminated a business license tax for new-car dealerships to encourage the large tax generators to return to the city.

Some car dealerships left Los Angeles to settle in Glendale, which doesn't have a business license tax.

Ken Grayson, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., a business group in North Glendale, said he was against any more fees placed on businesses.

“It's just a very convenient way to charge us more money,” Grayson said in a phone interview. “I can say without even a hesitation the membership of the shopping park would be against it, too.”

The City Council is set to discuss the issue again, but a date has not been set, Foy said.

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