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Posts from — December 2011

Open Letter to the City Council of Houston

This is a copy of the letter I sent to the City Council of Houston today to express my opinion that the newly proposed parking ordinance will hurt Houston restaurant and bar operators. This issue has been covered extensively and deserves your support. Please write a letter to the council today. It doesn’t need to be long. Simply tell them that this is important to you. Even a small number of voices will counterbalance the few residents along the Washington corridor that drove many of these changes to parking requirements.

You can reach the City Council members at these addresses:

mayor@houstontx.govdistrictc@houstontx.gov;
AtLarge3@houstontx.govAtLarge4@houstontx.gov;
AtLarge5@houstontx.govdistricti@houstontx.gov;
districth@houstontx.govatlarge1@houstontx.gov;
districtb@houstontx.govdistrictd@houstontx.gov;
districta@houstontx.govatlarge2@houstontx.gov

Learn more about this issue from OKRA.

Open Letter to the City Council of Houston:

I’m writing to you with regard to the city ordinance currently under review that proposes to significantly raise the parking requirements for restaurants and bars.

I’m not in the restaurant industry and I’m interested in this issue purely as a concerned citizen and voter. My story is typical of many Houstonians: I migrated to this city over 20 years ago and have become a relentless booster for my adopted home. 10 years ago I started a software company, which has since raised over $30M in venture capital and created nearly 200 highly paid jobs to this city. Houston is not a major software development center in US, but operating a business in this city has given me a natural advantage few regions can offer. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of low real estate costs, moderate taxes, high quality of life for my staff and virtually no barriers as a business operator. By every measure, my Houston experience has been exceptional.

Over the last few years I’ve met a number of chefs and restaurant operators, hearing their stories along the way. I’ve been surprised that their Houston experience is far different than my own.

I’ve learned that people in the restaurant industry are often highly trained, but put in a lot of work for relatively little pay. Many have no medical coverage or job stability. Very few get rich and not all make ends meet, and yet many of them continue to open new businesses, create jobs and become essential building blocks of any community around the city. This is where their experience diverges from my own. Opening a restaurant or bar in Houston is a difficult road, putting our most essential businesses at a huge disadvantage. The proposed Off-Street Parking Ordinance takes this disadvantage to a whole level.

Joel Kotkin, our favorite urban planning expert, promotes Houston as a model of a modern day megalopolis, which erects few barriers to business and allows neighborhoods to self-organize and evolve along their own chosen path. This is the essence of the ethos of this city – Houston is the place where men create their own luck, unencumbered by excessive government and fear of failure. Only this isn’t true for restaurant operators. The deck against them is stacked unusually high with city ordinances, regulations and requirements that were, no doubt, well intentioned at the time of passing, but have a crippling effect on ability for small business owners to survive today.

The proposal presented by the Planning Commission on Off-Street Parking Amendments recommends that the parking requirements are changed, but rather than stimulate small businesses in our neighborhoods the net effect will instead be extremely detrimental to the city as a whole. Parking requirements for restaurants and bars are increasing by 25% and 40%, even as parking requirements for shopping centers are decreasing. The fallout from this ordinance will have a dramatic effect on Houston. Fewer small operators will start new businesses, no new jobs will be created in this segment and within 10 years Houston will look like a caricature of itself – a concrete wasteland filled with big box stores, strip clubs and chain restaurants.

I’m not going to list the reasons why this parking ordinance is unnecessary and detrimental to job creation in Houston, or attempt to enumerate alternative approaches. I urge you to read the well-articulated position paper published by OKRA, a new organization for independent restaurant and bar operators. But I do want to tell you about two chefs attempting to start a business in Houston.

Justin is a young chef, a Houston native who spent the last few years working and training in the best restaurants around the world at a great personal expense. This is a typical path for chefs who want to be the top of their profession and the costs incurred along the way would surprise even those who carry the financial burden of modern day college education. Early in 2011 Justin returned to Houston to contemplate his next step. He has a restaurant concept, financial backing and a background in navigating the complexities of the Houston real estate market gained from his experience in the family business. And yet Justin spent much of this year looking for a suitable restaurant space with adequate parking, rather than operating his business. Nearly a year later he has found a grandfathered restaurant location and secured a lease – only weeks away from giving up on Houston and leaving for California. His restaurant will finally open in spring of 2012, marking a full year of not generating income, paying taxes or creating jobs in Houston.

Under the current parking ordinance Houston came very close to losing a potential business owner to another city due to unnecessary parking requirements. With increased parking requirements, Houston will most certainly lose this type of business and restrict the growth in our tax base at the worst possible time.

Terrence is another talented young chef who worked under some of the best chefs in the world and until recently lived in New York City. Earlier this year Terrence made a difficult move, leaving arguably the most prestigious restaurant city in US and came to Houston. Terrence’s story reads like that of Allen Brothers – in large what attracted him to Houston is our reputation as opportunity city. Only unlike Allen Brothers, Terrence is spending his time in Houston learning about parking ordinances, rather than building his dream business. Under the new parking ordinance a potential business owner like Terrence will likely stay in New York, a city with its own set of difficulties, but no onerous parking restrictions for restaurants.

My hope is that one day you, as city leaders, take on the task of making it easier for restaurant operators like Justin and Terrence to create new jobs. Today I hope that you simply do nothing and vote against this unnecessary increase in minimum parking requirements. In this economic reality, especially when Houston unemployment stands at 8.5%, the city of Houston simply cannot afford to hurt small businesses.

 

Misha Govshteyn

Founder and VP of Emerging Products
Alert Logic, Inc.

 

December 7, 2011   No Comments