SAN BENITO — Since November, Tony Camacho has been trying to open his restaurant in the city’s downtown.
But he says the city’s strict code enforcement requests have held him back.
Finally, this week, the city issued Camacho his business permit.
“I thought it would be easier here because it’s a small city,” he said.
But, that’s not what some are saying.
Lionel Betancourt, the former president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, has said tough code requests have led some businesses to open in other cities instead of San Benito.
Local officials see both sides and trying to do something about it.
At City Hall, City Planning Director Fred Bell, who oversees code enforcement, said Camacho undertook a renovation project that “took time.”
That’s why his effort took longer from start to finish.
“It is correct that Hospitaco initiated the rehabilitation of an existing building, but it took time for the owner to complete needed improvements to bring the building into compliance,” Bell said in a statement.
But, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa admitted the city is working to provide potential new businesses “more efficient service.
“We have implemented a great number of customer service improvements,” De La Rosa said in a statement. “We have put into action the plans to demonstrate better, more efficient service.
“We work with contractors and businesses to help them to open their doors more quickly so they can start servicing their customers.”
However, Betancourt saw things differently prior to his departure.
Last month, he resigned from the chamber, claiming its board of directors requested he address city requirements placed on businesses.
“I know my failure in carrying out the desired tasks of the board centered on difficulties involving codes,” Betancourt wrote in his resignation letter.
Betancourt said strict code enforcement requests have led some businesses to open in other cities.
He asked city commissioners to work with businesses to help them comply with codes.
“Take note of a business that wants to come to town and jump over all those hurdles,” Betancourt said in an interview before the meeting. “Let them open the business and operate and be kind about helping to overcome any code problems. Let them know that we, San Benito, want you to open your business here.”
Toni Crane, the chamber’s new chairwoman, said the organization is working with the city to help walk businesses through the code enforcement requests.
“There was an issue with businesses saying it was hard to open because of code issues,” Crane said. “We want to work with businesses in conjunction with the city to do what we can to help them come into town.”
Since November, Camacho has tried to open his restaurant Hospitaco.
The city took a month, he said, to approve his installment of his kitchen’s exhaust hood.
Then it took three weeks for the city to approve his sprinkler system, Camacho said.
Meanwhile, he has been paying $1,000 a month in rent.
In Brownsville, he opened his reception hall in a few weeks, Camacho said.
“It’s faster, everything there,” he said.
Some have had other experiences with the city.
On Robertson Street, Daniel Ybarra said he heard about the city’s tough code enforcement requests.
“A lot of people discouraged me, telling me San Benito is one of the hardest cities to open a business,” Ybarra said.
So Ybarra talked with De La Rosa before he opened Clean & Brite Laundry.
Prior to opening, he hired a private inspector to check the laundromat for code compliance.
So, Ybarra said he had no problems opening his business about five months ago.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “I didn’t experience what other people experienced.”
• Hospitaco renovation begins in November
• City approval of exhaust hood takes four weeks.
• City approval of sprinkler system takes three weeks
• City approves final inspection Wednesday
• City issues business permit yesterday