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In-home businesses have direct appeal in Roseville

Some neighborhoods face controversy
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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In-home businesses accounted for 5 percent of Roseville’s economic activity in 2011 — and entrepreneurs running ventures from the comfort of their living rooms say there are solid reasons why.

However, when owners don’t follow the rules, in-home businesses can lead to acrimony amongst neighbors.

Jim and Barbara Ferguson say having Green Care, a landscaping operation, located next to their house on Hidden View Lane has been a frustrating ordeal. The Fergusons claim Green Care’s owner, Paul Strauss, frequently has groups of employees congregating in front of his house — and behind it — to load company vehicles with supplies, which is barred by Roseville Municipal Code 19.42.050, sections A and D. Barbara Ferguson added this usually takes place around 7 a.m., before Roseville code enforcement workers have a chance to verify.

The Fergusons also say Strauss accumulates large supplies of pool cleaning chemicals on his property and has semi-trucks making deliveries on their tiny cul-de-sac. If true, these claims would be violations of Roseville Municipal Code 19.42.050, sections C and E.

“My husband has had ongoing email conversations with Paul Camalerri and his inspector Bill Burke,” Barbara Ferguson told The Press Tribune. “What we have been continually told is that they have not been able to observe any violations and can’t look over the fence for evidence. … We filed with the city a formal complaint about six weeks ago. Since that time — as we have in the past — we have supplied them with lots of videos and photos of the employees and business activity.”

On Dec. 18, at 6:40 a.m., The Press Tribune observed what appeared to be four or more landscaping employees parking vehicles on the cul-de-sac and loading equipment in trucks and trailers behind Strauss’s house. City code specifically bars in-home businesses from having contact with employees at their premises. It also bars employee parking on residential streets, as well as moving business materials outside of the home itself.

Roseville Public Information Officer Brian Jacobson acknowledged that residents are crucial to helping deal with in-home businesses that commit code violations, since the city has limited staff to monitor them.

“Once a report is filed, typically our code enforcement inspectors will try to contact the party in question, issue a warning and try to solve the problem,” Jacobson said. “If this does not work, the inspector may go to the address in question to investigate.  Without a warrant, they usually are prohibited from looking over fences or entering homes —

So, for these and a number of other reasons, they may not be able to witness the violation firsthand.”

He added that code enforcement inspectors cannot testify to the city’s hearing panel about what may be seen in a resident’s photograph or videos, though the resident who took the footage can testify independently.

The city can enforce such violations by using fines. Jacobson noted that, so far, the city has levied a $100 fine against Green Care in November 2011 and a $200 fine against the company in November 2012. The city also attempted to fine Green Care in 2010, though that penalty was later waved by an appeals board. 

Strauss and Green Care did not return calls from The Press Tribune.

The Fergusons remained irritated.

“I didn’t buy next to a dump on purpose,” Barbara Ferguson said.

Amidst the earthquakes in California’s economy in the last five years, Roseville has seen in-home businesses remain a consistent factor in city commerce, needling steadily between 4.2 and 5.3 percent of overall active business permits. According to Roseville public information officer Brian Jacobson, the city has so far received 5,651 requests this year for new business permits or permit renewals, 398 of which were in-home operations. 

Overall, business permits in the city fell by 100 applications from 2010 to 2011. Whether in-home permits, which fell by 20 permits from 2010 to 2011, will have the numbers to continue to hover around 5 percent — or shoot higher — remains to be seen.

One Roseville business owner who likes having a business in her home is Earth Kentro, owner of Earth Life Designs handmade jewelry. Kentro specializes in beads, earrings and necklaces which are sold at craft fairs, public events and the online shopping center for artists, Esty.com. Kentro acknowledges challenges that come with not working out of a traditional storefront, though she believes Roseville’s atmosphere can help make up for some of them.

“The problem with selling online is getting exposure,” Kentro said. “Potential customers want to touch and feel your work with their hands. As an artist, it’s hard to communicate what you’re doing through pictures alone. One advantage I see to having an in-home business in Roseville is that the city has a lot of gift fairs and public events ideal for vendors trying to build a client base.”

Kentro added that in-home businesses carry a much lower financial risk than their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts, which makes them appealing.

“When you’re a small business that’s starting out, renting an office brings in overhead costs that can ruin your chances before you even get off the ground,” she said. “When you’re doing an in-home business, it’s easier to work within your means and have the time to gradually build it up — so that maybe some day a physical store is a realistic possibility.”