Business friendly

Businesses need all the help they can get these days. Businesses brave enough to launch or expand in this economy deserve even more -- a standing ovation and a bear hug, for starters.

But the city of Las Vegas, as a matter of standard operating procedure, has long made the process of building and obtaining permits unnecessarily costly and inefficient.

Companies could handle the expense of navigating a confusing bureaucracy when the economy was exploding. Today, a cumbersome and unpredictable permit process is enough to scare many promising businesses away. That's unacceptable in a jurisdiction desperate for jobs.

Last month the City Council received a report from Kirchhoff and Associates that lays bare the government's shortcomings in helping new businesses open their doors -- and offers some well-timed, common-sense solutions.

Among the city's problems: failing to produce a manual that clearly explains the development process; inconsistent land-use opinions from the city attorney's office; a lack of coordination between departments; and instilling in city workers a culture that offers no incentives to work together or provide helpful, cooperative service to taxpaying customers.

Indeed, a letter to the city from the Las Vegas chapter of the American Institute of Architects warned that other local governments "provide a more development-friendly process. ... It is less expensive to develop projects outside the city of Las Vegas than within its boundaries."

Among the report's 95 suggestions for improvements: reconciling the codes of the building and planning departments and allowing the Planning Commission, not the City Council, to authorize special use permits.

Deputy City Manager Jim Nichols said officials are implementing some of the recommendations with the goal of demonstrating a shorter approval process by year's end.

The business community has decades worth of horror stories about dealing with city bureaucrats. Businesses that have the resources or connections to win the support of elected council members rarely have such troubles. That's part of the problem. Companies are supposed to enjoy equal protection under the law.

The council should follow the report's recommendation and resist the urge to bog down routine permit issues. It's a bright sign that the city of Las Vegas finally appears to understand that, given the recession and the government's huge revenue shortfalls, the stakes are too high to continue the status quo. Business as usual is bad business.