City Council Rejects Plan to Ban Home Businesses
by Stephanie Simon
Times Staff Writer

Rejecting a draft law that took three years to craft, the Thousand Oaks City Council has decided that residents should be allowed to run any type of business from their homes - as long as it does not disturb neighbors.

Council members unanimously turned down the proposal, which would have banned a dozen specific home-based businesses including photography studios, tattoo parlors, barbershops and medical clinics.

The same law would have imposed tough traffic restrictions on other businesses, making it difficult for tutors, music teachers and repair technicians to operate profitably, they said.

Characterizing the proposal as "government run amok," resident Ekbal Quidwai echoed other angry reactions when he told the council: "We have no business micromanaging the lives of business people."

All five council members - even those who had helped draft the law - evidently agreed.

In a vote late Tuesday, they tossed the five-page proposal into the trash.  Instead, they asked city staff to continue the current policy of requiring residents with home businesses to obtain permits, at a cost of $15.

Before issuing a permit, staff must certify that the proposed business will not create undue traffic clutter, noise or odor.  If neighbors complain, code enforcement officers will investigate and could revoke the permit.

Under that flexible system, the planning staff now issues up to 3,000 permits a year, and receives only five to 10 complaints.  But the criteria for granting and withdrawing permits remains subjective: a bureaucrat's evaluation or a neighbor's opinion.

In an effort to nail down more objective standards, a committee of planning commissioners and council members began drafting a revised law three years ago.  The resulting document - including a limit on the number of car trips to and from a home-based business - drew mainly jeers when reviewed Tuesday.

"Are we going to start monitoring, like the Gestapo, how many people come and go from a residence?" Ed Brodersen asked the council.  "This is ridiculous.  Let's go on to something important."

Another entrepreneur, Car Wash Guys owner Lance Winslow, reminded the council of many key inventions, from the light bulb to the Apple computer, that were born in garages.  Tinkering and experimenting at home "has to be done in Thousand Oaks, as it is in the rest of the world," he said.

Councilwoman Judy Lazar, who helped draft the ordinance, said she only wanted to update a 23-year-old law and never intended to drive home-based businesses out of Thousand Oaks.

But if the law had passed, its wording would have affected people like Gina Kassabian, who runs a telephone installation and repair business with her husband.

They use their Newbury Park mobile home as an office, but travel to visit clients, shuttling back and forth more times than the ordinance would have allowed.  Furthermore, the Kassabians park their repair van outside, with the name of their company clearly visible - another violation of the laws as written.

"That is a big part of our business, and if we had to take off the sign, we would really fight it," Kassabian said.

Disgruntled with the five-page draft, and the time spent debating it, Councilman Alex Fiore said his colleagues should seek to streamline, rather than complicate, the municipal code.

His suggestion, "Why in the world can't we write an ordinance that says, "If a business is considered, in the judgment of the council and planning staff to be noxious or disturbing to neighbors, it should not be permitted 'Period'".

Reprinted from Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1994.

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