At its January 13th Brentwood City Council meeting, Karen Rarey was appointed to the City Council having lost in the mayor’s race to former Vice-Mayor Joel Bryant. Her first order of business, believe it or not, a moratorium on “over-saturated businesses” within the city.
Businesses within her proposed moratorium would include the following: “gas stations, coffee shops, bagel shops, discount dollar stores, storage businesses,” and others. While Councilwoman Rarey might have had sound intentions, this proposal will likely have some dangerous unintended consequences.
The City of Brentwood relies heavily on sales and property taxes. Sales tax is the second-highest revenue source in the city, garnering almost $8 million in the 2019/2020 fiscal year, or approximately 14% of the revenue in the general fund. This number is expected to grow over the next 10 years. However, if a moratorium were to go into effect and limit the number of businesses that contribute sales tax revenue, growth would slow significantly.
Moreover, Brentwood has dozens of empty business spaces. Spaces that could be filled by what Rarey labels as “over-saturated businesses.” The fact of the matter is a business will survive as long as it can compete. Does it matter if there are 20 or even 30 coffee shops in Brentwood if they continue to survive and contribute increased sales tax revenue for the city? The market will decide what will stay and what will go, bureaucratic regulation like this will hurt more business from coming into Brentwood.
Furthermore, what does this type of policy say to outside businesses or investors looking to possibly come to Brentwood? That the city is anti-business?
Anyone can see a desperate need for Brentwood to provide office space for businesses offering higher-wage jobs. However, it is essential to understand that a coffee shop will not occupy the same workspace as a tech startup. In fact, if Brentwood intends to lure big business then they will need the small coffee and bagel shops to attract them as part of the overall equation.
When I ran for mayor, I had the opportunity to interview and speak with executives in Silicon Valley. One of the most critical factors for any large company is whether its employees will be happy in the area where they work. An employee should have the option to take a break for a few minutes and grab something to eat or pick up a coffee. Furthermore, large companies will not contribute a large sum to the city outside of property taxes; something that will only occur if they build a facility. What makes attracting large companies valuable is the need to bring employees into the city and keep residents in Brentwood during the workday where they can spend their money. Sales tax revenue will grow according to the amount of money spent in Brentwood. Thus, attracting more people and keeping them here will improve Brentwood’s stagnant economic growth.
Yet, if we place a moratorium on particular businesses that could contribute to our sales tax revenue, then our efforts to attract large companies are futile.
Nevertheless, I can concede that Brentwood may not require some types of businesses at the moment. I will use storage units as an example, further research on Brentwood’s population and need for storage would have to be done to reach a definitive conclusion, but it will work for now. If we were to discourage more storage units in Brentwood then our objections should be made during the planning stage. Businesses that cannot provide a comprehensive plan and project to contribute to the city and serve residents should not be approved. A moratorium might solve the need to consider these projects altogether but, it will also prevent businesses who might want to fill existing space.
I will reiterate that the need to fill empty business space in this city is becoming dire. When we cut off business from filling that space, we are increasing its chances to remain vacant and allow other cities to possibly thrive. The company that can survive, regardless of what type it is, must have the opportunity to versus a council to micromanage.
It is no secret our community is one of the least business-friendly cities in East County. Sean McCauley, the largest landowner in Brentwood, moved seven businesses from Brentwood to Antioch in the last year because it is cheaper and easier.
If we intend to change that persona and actually attract business, then Councilwoman Rarey’s proposal is a non-starter.
A moratorium at first glance may sound like a great idea, but it will be a severe detriment to this community and a foolish request considering this was her first meeting back on the Council since her defeat.
As someone who may want to one day open a coffee or bagel shop, I encourage the rest of the Council to dismiss this anti-American and anti-business idea immediate. I call on all residents to join me in doing the same.
City of Brentwood