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For a group whose main message is that San Diego is unfriendly to business, the San Diego business community sure does score a lot of wins.
Business owners and their backers began 2014 complaining about new city policies they said would hurt the local business climate.
There was an affordable housing fee that would’ve added costs for new buildings and expansions and a community plan update business leaders declared would hamper the region’s shipbuilding industry. Then interim mayor Todd Gloria began a months-long campaign to hike the minimum wage.
Business leaders emerged victorious (to varying degrees) in every case, rallying a coalition and gathering signatures to make their point.
And they came away with bonus wins in the form of business-friendly Mayor Kevin Faulconer taking the reins, plus the election of Chris Cate to the City Council and the re-election of Councilwoman Lorie Zapf. All were endorsed by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which bolstered its political efforts this year and raised more than $475,000 to support that mission.
All those successes make it clear the business community that temporarily lost some firepower on ex-Mayor Bob Filner’s watch has regained all its clout, and then some.
“It’s been a good year for us in terms of putting our stake in the ground,” said Chamber CEO Jerry Sanders, who led the charge on many of those policy fights.
Here’s a quick rundown of those battles.
• Business groups gathered more than 50,000 signatures and killed the 500 percent increase of a fee that helps pay for subsidized housing projects. The City Council had approved the increase in late 2013 despite protests from businesses that said it would imperil planned expansions and new hires.
The Council eventually approved a smaller increase that’s much more palatable to business owners. Manufacturers, warehouses, nonprofit hospitals and research and development companies will be exempt from the hike.
• Late last year, the establishment aggressively opposed a new community plan that aimed to separate homes from industrial businesses in Barrio Logan, a neighborhood that’s long been a mishmash of the two. Shipbuilders dubbed the plan a first step toward pushing shipbuilders out altogether.
Business groups fired back with another signature-gathering effort and managed to get the measure on the ballot. Voters delivered the kill shot.
• Gloria kicked off 2014 with big goals for the city. The headliner: a major minimum-wage increase. That announcement kicked off months of debate over what the increase should be.
Businesses, unsurprisingly, weren’t thrilled. After the City Council approved the hike – and overrode Faulconer’s veto – a group known as the Small Business Coalition gathered signatures and forced the increase onto the 2016 ballot.
There’s a clear theme in each case. A Democratic majority on the City Council approves a progressive policy, and the right-leaning establishment throws a major wrench in the plan.
“This year was almost all reactive if you look at it,” Sanders said. “We were reacting to situations, and we don’t want to react to situations.”
So Sanders said the Chamber, which played a lead role in the year’s policy fights, has a different resolution for 2015: Be more proactive and collaborative.
He said his team expects to toil more behind the scenes next year and to work with other groups on job-training programs and other events instead of engaging in high-profile battles.
The takeaway here: The business community is back and it’ll play a major role in guiding local policy conversations in 2015.
This is part of our quest digging into the difficulties – real or perceived – of doing business in San Diego. Check out the previous story in our series, CEQA Can Be a Convenient Weapon, and the next, Introducing San Diego Businesses’ Four Horsemen.