Guide to Starting a Business

[1] Contact the City of Mountain View

The City of Mountain View’s Development Services Center streamlines the development review process with a primary point of contact for businesses. Available at the Center are staff from Planning, Building Inspection, Fire Inspection and Economic Development so that any questions regarding zoning, building and fire codes, or permits can be answered in one location. Staff can also provide you with demographics and other information that may help you locate an optimal location for your business. The Development Services Center is part of the Community Development Department, and is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Close Noon – 1:oo p.m. for lunch.

Zoning Regulations
Before signing the lease or beginning business, every business owner should verify that their planned use and location comply with zoning regulations. The Community Development Department, (650) 903-6306, can tell you if your type of business is allowable in the proposed location. The Community Development Department can also inform you of any reviews or permits that may be necessary. If you are looking for a site, City staff will be glad to advise you on properly zoned areas to simplify your site selection.

What to do if you are starting a home business?
You will need to get a home occupation permit from the Community Development Department and agree to comply with the home occupation restrictions. In general, the intent of these regulations is to ensure that your home business does not disrupt or conflict with the residential neighborhood. Visit the Community Development Services Center to obtain this permit. The fee is about $30 per year.

What to do if you are looking for a physical location for your business?
Call, or, better yet, stop by the Development Services Center at City Hall, (650) 903-6306, to verify that your proposed use and location comply with zoning requirements. Request a copy of the restrictions and allowances for that location. If your proposed use and location comply with the Zoning Ordinance, skip to number 2.

Often, site plan and architectural review is required for building changes or signage. Certain kinds of businesses (e.g., nightclubs, auto repair facilities, etc.) may require a conditional use permit in order to comply with the Zoning Ordinance. In some instances, it may be necessary to apply for a variance from a specific zoning standard such as the number of parking spaces required. If any kind of permit is needed in order to comply with the Zoning Ordinance, be sure to make any leases or purchases of property for your business contingent upon City approval. Ask the Development Services Center staff what information they need from you, the approximate cost, the estimated time and the likelihood that your special use will be approved. In Mountain View, about 95 percent of planning applications are processed entirely at the staff level, and this does not involve any City Council or Environmental Planning Commission meetings.

If you find out that the zoning for your location does not allow the kind of business you wish to start under any circumstances, the Community Development Department may be able to suggest other locations where your business would be allowed or encouraged.

[2] Obtain a Business License

You must get a business license for each city where you conduct business, even if you do not have a fixed location in those other cities. The Business license fee in Mountain View is about $30 annually. All business licenses are renewed in January; licenses for new businesses are prorated on a quarterly basis. Downtown businesses also pay a fee for downtown marketing and promotion with their business license; call the Finance and Administrative Services Department at (650) 903-6317 to verify if this fee applies to your location.

What to do – Print out the Business license application. Please note that all applications for new business licenses must be submitted for approval in person, not by mail (license renewals can be mailed). For fee payment and filing procedures contact the Finance and Administrative Services at (650) 903-6317.

[3] Obtain City/County Permits

Signage Permit
The fastest and least expensive way to get your sign approved is to call the Development Services Center at (650) 903-6306, before buying or installing any signage. Staff can explain to you which signs can be approved over the counter and which need further design review. Some businesses find it even easier to have their sign company or their architect obtain the permits since these professionals are already familiar with the sign approval process.

The City generally has two concerns with signs: appearance and public safety. Sign permits and building permits are required whenever you install, move or alter a sign. The allowable number and size of each sign depends on the size, location and design of your building. Also, many landlords have their own sign guidelines with which their tenants must comply. Please note that signs are not permitted for home occupations. Window signs do not require a permit. However, window signs may not cover more than 25% of the window area.

What to do – First, ask your landlord if they have a set of guidelines pertaining to what signage they will allow. It also makes sense to talk with neighboring businesses about what kind of signs have worked well for them. Then, before you have any signs made, stop by or call the Development Services Center at (650) 903-6306, and ask for the following basic requirements:

  • Number of signs allowed per business and per building;
  • Size of each sign allowed;
  • Guidelines for placement of signs; and
  • Design and color restrictions.

Ask the Development Services Center staff to mail you a sign permit application. Ask them the amount of the fee and what kinds of documentation should accompany the application. Most sign applications need the building owner’s approval, plans and specifications, color and material descriptions, etc. Before the sign is made, be sure to submit the completed application (with your fee) to the Community Development Department. Ask them how long the approval process will take and if you have to attend any meetings or take other actions to secure approval of your sign.

Once the Development Services Center staff has issued a sign permit, you will be able to obtain the building permit, which is also available from the Development Services Center. Although painted signs require sign permits but not building permits, most kinds of signs need building permits because they involve electrical or structural work. Once you have both a sign permit and a building permit, you may install the sign. But again, many businesses find it easier to have their sign company or architect obtain approval for signs.

Building Permit
Building permits are typically required for all structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical work whether inside or outside of your building. A rule of thumb: Before you begin any remodeling or even simple rearranging (of signs, planters, etc.), be sure to call the Building Inspection Division of the Development Services Center at (650) 903-6313. The Building Inspector can explain to you what kinds of permits are needed for remodeling, their cost and the proper procedure. Check with the Development Services Center staff to learn about other permits that may be needed for your business. Also contact the Environmental Safety Division of the Fire Department at (650) 903-6378 if your business has any involvement with hazardous materials or industrial waste.

What to do – Before you lease space or begin your business, talk to the Development Services Center staff about your plans. Staff there includes the Building Inspectors and the Fire Protection Engineer as well as Planners so that any interrelated questions may be answered conveniently in one location. This is especially important if you plan to do any renovation to a building or change its use.

Sometimes, the entire facility needs to be brought up to code before issuing a permit. For example, you may want to upgrade your sink, but the Health or Building Codes may require new flooring, electrical changes or other improvements. You should also be aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the new Federal law mandating handicap access. Typically, buildings, which do not meet the ADA requirements for entrances and exits, bathrooms, etc. must be upgraded prior to opening your business.

Also, it is wise to not assume that just because your predecessor used the same building for a similar use that you can do the same without a new permit or improvements to the property. Again, the City’s Development Services Center and the County Health Department (in the case of food-related businesses) can address this question prior to your investing any money in the building.

There may be other regulations of interest to your business. The City Clerk’s Office, (650) 903-6304, can provide you with copies of regulations related to smoking and other matters.

County Health/Food Permit
If you sell or handle food, you must obtain a permit from the County Environmental Health Services Department. The Santa Clara County Health Department is located at 2220 Moorpark Avenue, San Jose, California, 95128, (408) 299-6060. CAUTION: The regulations for selling and handling food are extensive and precise. Do not commit to a lease or buy any equipment until you have completed all of the steps discussed below.

No food from your home, please. California law prohibits the sale of food prepared at home. This rule includes caterers, who the State says should be preparing food only in professional, approved facilities. The County Health Department enforces these laws to protect the public from improperly prepared food.

Just because a facility is being used to prepare or sell food, it does not mean that the Health Department will let you use the same facilities without making any changes or upgrades. Each new operator must apply for his or her own license from the County Health Department. Before you sign a lease, call the Health Department and ask them to do a walk-through with you. They can also advise you as to whether the equipment and the facility are generally acceptable. Be sure to ask the Health Department to see their files on the facility to be aware of any past problems or violations.

Avoid this mistake – Just because a facility is being used to prepare or sell food, it does not mean that the Health Department will let you use the same facilities without making any changes or upgrades. Each new operator must apply for his or her own license from the County Health Department. Before you sign a lease, call the Health Department and ask them to do a walk-through with you. They can also advise you as to whether the equipment and the facility are generally acceptable. Be sure to ask the Health Department to see their files on the facility to be aware of any past problems or violations.

What to do – To obtain a permit from the County Health Department, you must submit a plan for approval. Before you prepare a plan:

  • Check your location-do a traffic count. Is there enough traffic to support your business?
  • Check with the Development Services Center to make sure that the Zoning Ordinance allows your business in this location.
  • Determine exactly what food you want to sell as the regulations can vary depending on whether you are selling simpler food, such as sandwiches, or more complicated food, such as fully cooked meals. Remember, these regulations are very extensive and precise.
  • You may want to contact your insurance broker. Some insurance companies have specific guidelines to lower rates.

Now, you are ready to prepare a plan for your food business:

  • Call the Health Department at (408) 299-6060 and get a copy of their regulations for your type of food establishment and the type of food you intend to offer.
  • Prepare complete, detailed plans showing what equipment you will use (including model number and specifications), what material will be used to finish the walls, floors and ceilings, as well as information on plumbing, electricity and ventilation. Talk to the Health Department to make sure that your plans include all the details that they will need. Submit three copies of your plans (plus an extra “cut sheet” specifying the equipment) to the County Health Department for approval. The fee for plan check approval by the Health Department ranges from $217 to $868. Note that the plan check fee does not include the annual health permit fee.
  • After approval by the County Health Department, your next step is the Development Services Center at the City of Mountain View. The Center can then process your conditional use permit (if required) and any permits for signs and exterior remodeling of your building. Then, the Building Inspection Division of the Development Services Center can process your building permits.
  • It is especially important that you provide an adequate enclosure for your garbage dumpster. Special requirements apply in the downtown area, including minimum garbage pick-up of twice weekly, bagging of all wet garbage, etc. Call the solid waste division of Public Works for more information at (650) 903-6311.

Fees
Once your food business opens, you must pay an annual County health permit fee for the inspections provided by the Department. The fee is based on the size and type of business and ranges from $97 to $766. The County will inspect your food business at least four times a year and more often if they receive complaints.

Miscellaneous City regulations affecting Businesses
There may be other regulations of interest to your business. The City Clerk’s Office, (650) 903-6304, can provide you with copies of regulations related to smoking and other matters.

 

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Chamber of Commerce Mountain View
580 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
Phone: 650.968.8378
E-Mail: info@chambermv.org