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Goleta’s New Business License Fee Takes Effect in January

The program, approved recently by the City Council, is designed to collect information about the city's businesses

Business owners in Goleta soon will be required to apply for a business license in order to operate within the city. The new fee, voted in unanimously by the City Council a little more than a month ago, goes into effect in January.

For businesses within the city limits — from large operations to home offices — that means a little more than $100 in 2010 for the license and a $23 one-time administrative fee, due Jan. 31. In subsequent years, business owners will be charged the $100 and a $15 renewal fee.

The licensing program is meant to collect information about businesses in Goleta. To date, the city doesn’t have that depth of information, City Manager Dan Singer said. Other cities typically have business license programs.

“This will help us have a comprehensive understanding of what businesses we have in our community,” he said.

He said it also will allow the city to assess whether certain business operations are compatible with their neighborhoods. For example, someone who works a pool-cleaning business out of a home might be storing large quantities of hazardous chemicals in the garage, Singer said.

News of the fee raised concern in the local business community, particularly for its timing.

“This is not the time or the economy to be asking every business person, in my opinion, to be anteing up,” said local physician Gerald Svedlow, who got his letter from the city just a few days ago. The city could have waited for the economy to improve a little before requiring the business license fees, he added.

His concern is shared by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, which showed support for such a program when it was proposed.

“Most of us are hopeful that in the near future, business prospects and profits will rebound,” stated a letter dated Nov. 19 to the council from chamber president Kristen Amyx. “At the moment, however, many businesses are still struggling to make ends meet just to stay in business.”

Mayor Eric Onnen said the city’s license fee program, an update from a 1939 Santa Barbara County program, is an investment that needs time — although it may sting at the moment.

“From the perspective of the person who’s paying it, yes, this feels exactly like a new tax,” said Onnen, who also owns Santa Barbara Airbus, headquartered in Old Town Goleta. For his $100, Onnen said he would like to see the city obtain some baseline information on the business climate in Goleta.

“It’s a bad time to ask for it, but it’s timely for the city to get better connected with the business community,” said Onnen, adding that information taken from the program could help the city understand how to support local businesses.

The fee program has been in the works for years. A council discussion over a possible business tax about two years ago brought up the need to get a closer look at business in Goleta. The business tax idea has been shelved, for the moment.

Singer said there are penalties for not participating in the program, with an initial fine of $100, a second of $250 and a third of $500.

Still, he said, the initial effort will be aimed at gathering and tabulating data more than it would be on the enforcement of the new rule. It would take at least a year for the city to get a good picture from the data.

There are an estimated 2,400 to 2,500 businesses operating within the city limits.

For Wendy Guyer, owner of Pet House, 5781 Calle Real, the new fee is fine as long as it’s not so open-ended. She said her concern is not so much about paying it, but that the money the city collects is put to good use.

“With $100 a year and a little administrative fee, I have no problem with that,” Guyer said. “I understand my civic duties.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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