Facilitating Frictionless Economic Development—WHAAATT???

I’d like to share with you a sentence that makes me very happy and optimistic about the future of government. It’s from the website that CfA Fellows Ruthie BenDor and Tamara Shopsin are building to help new businesses in Santa Cruz, Calif. understand how to be legit, and to help them become so.

It reads:

Zoning basically makes sure a rubber factory can’t open next to a preschool.

Imagine you are trying to figure out how to apply for a permit for your new (or existing) business, and you land upon a maze of forms and requirements. You’re trying to do the right thing, but the bureaucracy isn’t making it easy. You go from feeling like a good citizen to feeling like a frustrated victim. And now it’s not just a permit you need, but a zoning clearance as well. Really? Why? Is this really necessary? Yargh!!

Instead of navigating the standard information channels, now you can be guided through the process on the Santa Cruz team’s OpenCounter site, which is the brainchild of Peter Koht, Santa Cruz’s visionary Coordinator of Economic Development.

Ruthie, Tamara, and Peter know, from lots of experience, that at this point you’re probably annoyed, and you’re kind of frustrated with the process. So just when you need to hear it, they explain why. “Zoning basically makes sure a rubber factory can’t open next to a preschool.” That makes sense.

And it makes sense because of the way it’s written. Simple, concrete, easy to understand. Anyone want their kid at a preschool next to crazy toxic fumes? Nope. Good, now lets start that application. Now we’re out of the Brazil scenario and back to the business of getting things done.

There are hundreds of different reasons why we do what we do here at Code for America. Each fellow comes to this work with different motivations and different perspectives. But common to many is simply that we value government, and we believe that it is in fact,“we, the people.” Well, we the people don’t speak legalese.

Except as otherwise provided by Section 17.01.040, no activities or facilities shall be established, substituted, expanded, constructed, altered, moved, painted, maintained, or otherwise changed, and no lot lines shall be created or changed, except in conformity with the General Plan. To the extent that there is an express conflict between the General Plan and the Zoning Regulations, this requirement shall supersede the requirement for conformity with the Zoning Regulations stipulated in…

“We the people” speak rubber factories and preschools. Well done, team Santa Cruz. We’re looking forward to seeing OpenCounter evolve over the rest of the year.

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