Business & Real Estate

Communication is key when opening a new LA business

For people looking to open a business in Los Altos, how quickly they can get up and running often depends on how long it takes to get the city’s permission to do so.

Permits depend not only on the type of business, but also on what the owners want to do with the space they will occupy.

When Robynne Winchester was preparing to open Revelation in Fit in downtown Los Altos, she didn’t expect it to take longer than it did to launch her flagship lingerie shop in Oakland.

She was wrong.

Winchester said she was up and running in three months in Oakland; it took her a year in Los Altos. That’s because Winchester said she encountered obstacles that she didn’t experience in Oakland three years ago.

“What’s special about Los Altos is that you have to hire a licensed architect,” she said.

Winchester signed her lease for the building on State Street in February 2016 and didn’t open until last month, in part due to construction delays. The work included room divisions, new lighting, paint and flooring, she said.

According to Jennifer Quinn, Los Altos’ economic development manager, anytime there is construction, the permit process usually takes longer.

“Once a business finds a space and signs a lease, which has its own timeline, there can be construction that needs to be done, which typically will have an architect and a contractor, and that will be submitted over the counter at city hall – and it’ll be three to four weeks to get approved,” Quinn said. “The contractor should wait to have plans approved prior to starting construction, as timelines can be different. During the construction process, there are periodic checks that the building (department) does, based on milestones.”

Quinn added that Los Altos has “one of the fastest turnaround times in the region” when it comes to permitting new businesses.

For Kiwi Crate, which opened last November on State Street, there were no delays opening, according to James Kim, vice president of operations. This was because their location was ready for the use they imagined.

The store, specializing in kids’ projects, used the building as is, with no construction necessary. Kim, responsible for securing the permits, said the process was fairly simple.

“There was one counter (at the planning department), someone asked if they could help me and then they did,” he said. “It took five to 10 business days to get the business permit.”

The Planning Services Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Jon Biggs, the city’s community development director, said communication is key. He is involved in the multiphase review process as well as responsible for ensuring that all approvals are obtained.

Biggs said that when he works with new business owners, he often notices that their properties do not meet the building-code requirements.

“We encourage them to come talk to us before they sign the lease, so they know what they are getting themselves into,” he said. “There are accessibility requirements and other improvements that need to be incorporated into the project and need to be accounted for.”

Many business owners are eager to open, Biggs said, and don’t always realize how much time it takes to get all of their paperwork in order with the city.

“Under the best circumstances, it takes three weeks after the building permit is submitted,” he said.

Biggs recommended that new business owners confer with city officials before signing a lease, so they know what to expect and can learn the best ways to move forward.

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