Business First - Code Cleanse

FortuneTeller.jpgIn this Cedar Falls Business First post, I focus on ‘code culture’. While other cities add code and tailor incentives with the hopes of landing the next big business, Cedar Falls has an opportunity to change the code tidal wave. How does a code review elevate our game? It sets a tone for welcoming enterprises, ideas, innovations, and start-ups. Instead of looking to codes for permissions, business can set its focus on creating value, serving customers, and growing business.

In the near term, we need to set our minds to tasks in our immediate control. Our first task in our business-friendly journey should be a full “Code Cleanse”. The code cleanse is in Council’s total control and it sets a business friendly tone if we can reduce regulation and red-tape. The City’s code of  ordinances are relics of the past and rarely make accommodations for the future. One shining example - Uber is illegal in Cedar Falls, Exhibit A for antiquated and irrelevant code.The easiest place to start is our occupational licensing and permitting code. And there is some high-level support. Here’s the first paragraph from theWhite House report:

Over the past several decades, the share of U.S. workers holding an occupational license has grown sharply. When designed and implemented carefully, licensing can offer important health and safety protections to consumers, as well as benefits to workers. However, the current licensing regime in the United States also creates substantial costs, and often the requirements for obtaining a license are not in sync with the skills needed for the job. There is evidence that licensing requirements raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across State lines. Too often, policymakers do not carefully weigh these costs and benefits when making decisions about whether or how to regulate a profession through licensing. In some cases, alternative forms of occupational regulation, such as State certification, may offer a better balance between consumer protections and flexibility for workers.

municode.PNGWhile it may be nice to know that a fortune teller is licensed to do business by the city, it serves no legitimate purpose. While it may give you comfort to know Felix the Cat is in a permitted kennel for the weekend, it is not a role that local government should play (writer’s note: to my knowledge, there isn’t a single permitted kennel in Cedar Falls, but several seem to be operating in a similar capacity. Point proven). The market rewards good businesses and puts the bad ones out of business. A license or permit is not a badge of quality. If there is a grievance between two parties, the courts exists for this purpose to enforce contracts (written, verbal, uniform commercial transactions and more).

We should set a goal to eliminate licensing or permitting provisions based on a few tests:

  1. Redundancy Test – do other jurisdictions (county, state, federal) manage licensing boards or set forth occupational requirements? CF Example: restaurant and food vending is a licensed activity, but the permit comes from the county.
  2. Laugh Test – is there legitimate public interest? Must fortune tellers be regulated and permitted? Does the lack of tree trimming licensing pose a larger public health benefit that licensing for lawn chemical application or pest control? Cedar Falls example: tree trimming license required
  3. Enforcement Test – are businesses operating in our city that require a permit, but do not have one? This would imply preferential treatment and proves the lack of necessity for permit or licensure – the market is working, there is no cause for action. Cedar Falls example: all operating kennels.

For permitting, we need to question whether it is necessary at all. Rather than issuing permits, we should only need to look at our code for what is permissible. Long-standing land-use codes set precedents and rights. No need for radical change, we only need a mechanism to identify use and enforcement if use is beyond the permissible. This is simple stuff.

My immediate proposals for code cleanse (either eliminating or re-writing to fit the proper role of local government):

  • Sec. 16-31. - Itinerant photographers - DELETEphotography.png
  • Sec. 16-32. - Refreshment stands or vending machines located on street or sidewalk - merge into MOBILE MERCHANT
  • Sec. 16-33. - Fortunetelling and similar practices - DELETE
  • DIVISION 2. - PAWNBROKERS- merge into RESELLERS
  • DIVISION 3. - PEDDLERS, SOLICITORS AND TRANSIENT MERCHANTS - merge into MOBILE MERCHANTMobileFoodVendor.jpg
  • DIVISION 5. - JUNK DEALERS - merge into RESELLERS w/provision for indoor vs. outdoor
  • DIVISION 6. - SECONDHAND DEALERS - merge into RESELLERS w/provision for indoor vs. outdoor
  • DIVISION 7. - DISTRESS SALES - DELETE
  • DIVISION 8. - MASSAGE ESTABLISHMENTS AND TECHNICIANS - DELETE (self regulated through Iowa Board of Massage Therapy Examiners)
  • DIVISION 9. - BURGLAR AND HOLDUP ALARM SYSTEMS - DELETE, may need certification guidelines for interoperability with public safety
  • DIVISION 10. - SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS FOR BUSINESSES - DELETE
  • Chapter 28 - VEHICLES FOR HIRE - DELETE

We can maintain code definitions because these are imperative for ‘permissible’ activities for given zones, but permits be gone! Mobile merchant and resellers would be new designations. With mobile merchant, their operations may be restricted (i.e. time of operation or sound making) according to the zoning in which they are operating. For Resellers, certain process or data may be required to assist public safety functions. In this case, we’d look for model code and hopefully reference self-regulation industry standards.

This is a start and I will re-introduce a code cleanse priority in our next goal setting session in November, or perhaps part of a bigger goal to serve the Business First goal of the city. As the year moves on, I will propose additional tactics and strategies with the goal to make Cedar Falls the most business friendly city in Iowa, or the Midwest. Your input is always appreciated!


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  • Can you add the cat and dog tax to the bin of codes to get rid of or at least be equitable and implement an annual child tax with certification from the doctor that they don’t have head lice?