The city of Palo Alto will soon require all businesses to report how many employees they have and provide other data, but the information could also be used for other purposes, such as the possible ban on selling cigarettes, according to Kim Torke, acting environmental services division director.
City council members and city employees such as economic development manager Tom Fehrenbach have said information collected by the registry would be mostly used to help the city gather information to solve parking and traffic problems downtown.
The information could also be used for disaster preparedness, business marketing, compliance with rules about water conservation, economic development and land use decisions, a report to city council from city manager James Keane said.
At its meeting Tuesday, the council members, with Greg Scharff and Liz kniss absent, voted to move ahead with creating the registry. All businesses would be required to pay a fee from $35 to $75 annually to support information collecting program.
But at the end of a report presented to counsel with a list of potential questions that businesses would be asked, such as: “does the business store hazardous materials or generate hazardous waste?”. “Does the business perform automobile repairs? “and “(does the business) sell tobacco products?”
Councilman Larry Klein told the Post earlier this week that he wouldn’t support the questionnaire asking those questions, because he and other council members wanted to limit it to a short, four or five question form.
Torke told the Post that his office had asked that the question about cigarettes be added because the council had asked him to look at expanding the city’s current smoking ban in the downtown and California Avenue area.
The city already bans smoking within 25 feet of entrances to public buildings. Eventually, he said, it could help them ban the sale of cigarettes at places such as pharmacies and grocery stores.
Torke said it helps to have the information for people who would be affected by the ban so that the city can go talk to them about it in advance.
The city could already get the same information by going to the Board of Equalization, which licenses businesses to sell tobacco. But Torke, said it would just be more convenient to have it all on one form.
The sample questions also included inquiry about whether businesses use plastic pellets, which are used to make plastic products a rarity in Palo Alto.
Torke said that state water inspectors have asked for such information before when they check on the city’s operation, because the pellets can get into storm drains and eventually the ocean.
He said that state inspectors ask other cities to get information on their business registries. When the Post looked at the business license applications of the Menlo Park, Mountain View and Redwood City, none had questions about plastic pellets or cigarettes.