Business ideas reviewed

Council approves grant for economic development consultant, plus other measures to improve business climate.

June 04, 2010|By Barbara Diamond

A bare council majority awarded a $50,000 grant to the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to hire a part-time economic development director to lure new business to Laguna.

The grant was among the 24 recommendations made Tuesday by the council's Business Assistance Task Force. All but one were approved by the council.

"It was suggested that the city should hire a business development director, but we didn't feel the city should do that," said Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, co-chairwoman with Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman of the task force.


"The chamber wants to reduce events and work more with the businesses, so we have recommended the chamber hire a half-time person with contacts in the state and the county. That's important."

Council members Kelly Boyd and Jane Egly voted against the grant, one of two financial requests made Tuesday by the committee, but the only one approved.

The committee also asked for an $18,000 appropriation to fund a city customer-service training program.

Boyd favored the task force recommendations — except the requests for immediate money.

"We shouldn't jump into this [grant] before we make some changes in policy," Boyd said.

Egly agreed.

"We need to clean house before selling it," she said.

Boyd also objected to city funding for customer-service training.

"I think the owners ought to train their people to be nice to customers," Boyd said.

The task force was created more than a year ago to address the goals of attracting new business to town, maintaining and supporting existing businesses, improving the business environment and improving city services.

"Our city cannot succeed without a vital, thriving business community," said Matt Lawson, a member of a task force subcommittee. "And our local businesses cannot thrive unless we maintain what is unique and special about Laguna. We simply have to do both."

But Laguna cannot prosper as "The City of No," he said.

Iseman said sometimes "no" is the right answer. She has heard stories of businesses spending $100,000 trying to open a store in town, only to be denied. She said it would be kinder and more prudent to say "no" from the start and possibly steer applicants in a new direction.

"We need a good planning commission to hold the line," Iseman said

She supports Ocean Avenue as an oasis of resident-serving businesses that she would not like re-zoned when the Downtown Specific Plan is reviewed. She compared it to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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