(photo credit: Matthew Grant Anson)
California has a reputation as a complicated place to do business—with uncertainty about everything from the state’s evolving labor laws to the status of business permits. The Golden State also has a reputation for some of the nation’s toughest standards for protecting workers and the environment.
The results are all around us: California is home to hundreds of miles of protected coastline, declining air pollution in many cities, a minimum wage that will soon be higher than any other state in the country—and more than a few employers concerned that while they may share the state’s regulatory goals, they keep finding themselves tied up in red tape.
This may be one of California’s most complicated, perennial policy challenges—but it also provides a rare opportunity.
The California Economic Summit is one of the few forums in the state where business, environmental, and labor leaders can come together to discuss how to balance economic growth, environmental protection, and equal opportunities for every Californian.
This year’s Summit, on November 7-8 in Los Angeles, aims to do all three.
A regulations action plan for California
Last year, the Summit supported the implementation of new legislation requiring a regulatory impact analysis of all major new state regulations—an effort to better understand the fiscal and economic impacts of regulatory changes before they happen. The Summit also championed a year-long effort to encourage a statewide conversation about updating one of state’s most complex regulations, the California Environmental Quality Act.
This year, the Summit’s goals remain largely the same. “We want to be thoughtful about the way we talk about this,” Summit Regulations team member Andrew Sturmfels, representing the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), told an assembly of Summit action team leaders in a briefing with state officials in October.
“Our team has been careful to put this work in the context of ‘Regulations are a part of governing and governing is a good thing.’ We believe in protecting our environment and workforce safety,” Sturmfels said. “The challenge often isn’t the regulation itself, how it’s written or structured. It’s the process that results, when the writing is done and an agency has to do something. That work that takes place is what causes people the most frustration.”
This frustration with navigating the regulatory process is the focus of this year’s Regulations action plan, which proposes a renewed effort to review state regulations to make them more transparent and easier to understand. This includes a plan to work with the governor’s office—including GO-Biz, which has several representatives on the Summit team, including co-lead Paul Martin, the department’s deputy director—on assessing a small group of regulations to look for opportunities to remove steps or better use technology for tracking.
A Yelp for state regulations?
Along with continued support for a statewide dialogue about CEQA, the plan also includes a creative proposal to make navigating the regulatory process easier for permit applicants by creating an independent, “Yelp”-style survey instrument, funded and managed outside of government, to measure customer satisfaction with specific agencies.
“We’re not focusing on changing regulations, we’re focused on agencies and processes,” Quay Hays, one of the Summit Regulation team’s leaders and the CEO of GROW Holdings, a sustainable development and renewable energy company, said at the October briefing.
“Our strategy is to put together a McKinsey-type team that would go into a state agency to figure out how to streamline a process—to see how it works and make recommendations—while also making it easier to track an application’s status,” Hays said. “We want to make it so companies can no longer say ‘We’re not coming to California, we don’t understand how it all works.’”
At the Summit, more than 500 business, government, nonprofit, and civic leaders will have an opportunity to discuss whether the Summit’s plan for streamlining regulations works, as well—and how these proposals can find their way through California’s always-complicated regulatory politics.