January 23, 2013 at 15:52 PM EST
Mayor's red-tape team touts gains
Six months ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched an initiative to re-imagine how city government works with small businesses. The Business Customer Service Initiative was created to streamline the process of opening a business by employing a system similar to the Police Department's CompStat. It would use data to track how long it takes businesses to get through onerous city permitting and application processes before opening. That time span is crucial because new businesses typically have to pay rent and other expenses for months before they can open their doors to customers. The unit formed to implement the initiative—the New Business Acceleration Team—has focused on restaurants and food establishments, which must navigate more city agencies than other kinds of businesses. In a report provided to Crain's , the city says it has helped 1,074 restaurants open by providing them with a client manager who helps to coordinate inspections and acts as a government concierge. The administration claims that has created 11,417 jobs. But more bureaucratic red tape can still be cut, according to the latest report from Tokumbo Shobowale, the city's chief business operations officer. For sidewalk cafes, for instance, the goal is to get the number of days it takes to get approval down to 56 by December 2013. It currently takes 76 to 115 days. Over the past three months, Mr. Shobowale's group has made sure that all city inspections occur within five days of a request, and all plan reviews are carried out within 10 days. Mr. Shobowale also plans to enable business owners to request inspections online, reduce the time of renewals for "place of assembly" permitting by 50%, and make the food service establishment permit available online via the city's Health Department. The Bloomberg administration is also supporting legislation in the City Council that would allow businesses time to correct a violation before being penalized. And it now offers unopened restaurants a dry-run health inspection so they can correct in advance violations that might earn them a bad letter grade. About 37% of business permits and license applications needed by restaurants and other businesses are available online. The administration's goal is 80% by the end of the year. The Business Customer Service Initiative is also trying to make it easier for business owners to avoid paying fines for simple violations. Last October, the office posted a video for restaurateurs about grease management. Now a sequel is online: a slick guide on how to mitigate noise complaints, which remain one of the gripes most often reported to 311. The video recommends restaurants and clubs with noise violations to work with "an acoustical consultant," install a limiter compressor to the sound system, soundproof doors and walls, install sound-isolating treatments to floors or walls, and use directional loudspeakers.
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