April 25, 2012 | by Mark Lee
‘Shut the front door’ on regulatory overreach

It’s hard work maintaining D.C.’s longstanding status at the very bottom of the barrel as the most “small-business-unfriendly” jurisdiction in the country. Some local elected officials, however, seem determined to repeatedly demonstrate that they remain fully up to the task of preserving the District’s ignominious distinction.

The latest example of this misguided enterprise entanglement and penchant for exceeding the compliance ability of government is a bill introduced last week by the cohorts of what some have begun referring to as the D.C. Council “nanny caucus” — Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

A proposed energy bill, heralded in a news release issued by Council member Cheh, includes a provision mandating that local businesses, as well as “commercial properties” such as “office buildings and service facilities,” “keep exterior doors and windows closed when an air conditioner that cools the adjacent area is in operation.”

Pause for eye rolling.

Enforcement would become the responsibility of the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), with fines and penalties to be administered by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). No details are offered regarding the number of government workers required to be tasked with inspecting the many thousands of applicable structures on a regular basis, or even if there is an adequate number to be pulled from other priorities to do so.

Exempt under the proposal are enterprises operating only a single business location, commercial properties of less than 4,000 square feet in size, exclusive of storage space, and hotels or restaurants. An odd and troubling omission is the lack of a specified exemption for bars and nightclubs alongside that for restaurants and hotels.

Regulations of this onerous variety are commonly introduced without inquiry or regard for the appraisal of in-house officials evaluating whether the inspection, enforcement and administrative responsibilities exceed the operational and functional capabilities of already overburdened city agencies. And, in order to maintain the perception of cost neutrality, such bills do not include provisions for increased agency staffing or related activity expenses necessary to actually implement such business mandates.

Quibbling over real-world practicalities or considering downstream implications is not the hallmark of other similar efforts by these same legislators. Why allow a perfectly good opportunity to extend the reach and growth of government to get sidetracked by mere bureaucratic details?

Is it not understood that business enterprises, commercial properties and office buildings are doing everything possible to reduce waste and eliminate unnecessary operating expenses? If only the same could be said of our city government.

Monitoring and maintaining energy and other efficiencies are especially critical in a locale with the second highest business taxation rates among states and one of the most heavily taxed places to live.

While most modern buildings are close to hermetically sealed, the practice of propping open or raising a door or two is usually borne of necessity – accommodating patron safety, operational practicality or employee service functions. Examples include heavily trafficked delivery docks and service bays, passageways for patio areas at bars and employee service personnel paths of access.

What, if any, is the energy use differential between seeping air and the nearly ubiquitous standard alternative — sensor-activated automatically sliding doors? Would the proponents deign that local businesses install behemoth electronic doorway structures, perhaps with double-doors creating a sealed “chamber-like” environment? What are the inherent carbon trade-offs of such a costly switch?

This increasingly isolated legislative minority has proven largely unsuccessful in gaining traction for similar initiatives among their colleagues on the 13-member Council. Thank goddess for small mercies.

However, their policy efforts appear limited only by what can be cribbed from the hit lists of special interest groups or that mimic legislatively trendy mandates offered up by hyper-regulatory counterparts in other jurisdictions. A reflexive tendency to meddle in the minutiae of business operation, as if a parent scolding a small child, has become as unflinchingly normal as commerce itself.

Instead of scheming up overzealous and ridiculous new business micromanagement measures of either controversial or counterproductive merit, we would be better served by sensible Council members supportive of local businesses and the revenues they generate.

Let’s hope this latest provision is quickly tossed in the legislative dustbin.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

2 Comments
  • The stores that keep there front doors wide open all day during the summer come to mind here. Rather than using the government to stop this kind of poor citizenship people could just organize boycotts of businesses that operate in this way. But I am guessing Mark Lee would object to a little bit of capitalist pressure here as well.

    What I am wondering about is why the Blade is publishing this. There certainly isn’t much of an LGBT angle here. Perhaps the goal is to sell more advertising to the stores taking over Dupont Circle that do this kind of thing.

  • Who actually wrote this piece? ALEC?

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