Regulations blamed for driving businesses away
by Brett Johnson

Star-Free Press Staff Writer

Business leaders disagreed Thursday on the severity of the recession, but financiers and carwash owners alike agreed that stringent regulations in Ventura County also are hurting their livelihoods.

"Why should we have rule after rule after rule?" asked Lance Winslow, owner of Car Wash Guys in Thousand Oaks.  "We need a magic marker.  The city tried to shut me down last year.  No one ever tells you what the rules are when you begin."

Business owner Klara Katersky of Westlake Village said she knows of developers and landscape architects who "are out of business today because of the attitudes of Ventura County."

"Ventura County needs to bring back the developer community," Katersky said.  "That doesn't mean giving them free rein to tear up our hills, but let's sit down and listen...Are we for growth or not?"

Winslow, Katersky and others who spoke at the first meeting of the Council on Economic Vitality said that business' importance to the local economy should not be forgotten in the rules to adopt regulations and require paperwork.

The 40-member group, formed at county Supervisor Maggie Erickson-Kildee's suggestion, is examining ways to rejuvenate the local economy and retain businesses.  The group will meet again Feb. 20, and is planning an economic summit in April or May in Ojai.

One of the ideas tossed around Thursday was easing government red tape.

"It's not a call to overthrow all regulations, but it is not a call to leave them alone," said Erickson-Kildee.

But Winslow said he had a difficult time interpreting federal, county and city rules governing disposal of wastewater from his car washing business, the issue that almost forced him to close and lay off his 60 employees.

Katersky said she knows of some business people who avoid Ventura County because of expensive regulations.  Carolyn Leavens, representing the Ventura County Farm Bureau, added that the county is known for having the most stringent enforcement of rules in California.

Steve Rubenstin, president of the Conejo Chamber of Commerce, said he was sick of taxes, fees, regulations "and of an attitude that business should take car of all of the ills of society."

Such sentiments are fairly common, according to a recent Southern California Edison Co. survey of 2,500 of its customers,.  Companies who left California say that one of their biggest problems was getting local governments to respond to their needs, said Barry Sedik, an energy planner for Edison.

Of those remaining in California, Sedik said, "Now they say, 'Tell me why I should stay.  What is going to happen in California to make it worth my while?'"

Some businesses, however, are exaggerating the problem, said Bill McAleer, chairman and chief executive officer of Ventura County National Bank.  High-technology firms, wholesalers, service industries and agriculture officials report that economic conditions are holding steady or slowly improving and that many plan to start hiring workers by the end of the year, he said.

Only major retailers, the petroleum industry and the tourism business remain depressed, according to McAleer, who surveyed several   hundred businesses.

"Things aren't as bad as people look at them," he said.  "The county is not in that bad of shape."

Reprinted from Star-Free Press, January 31, 1992.

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