Thursday, August 30, 2007

Council Rejects Staff's Anti-chain Ordinance

By Nao Braverman
Council members unanimously rejected the city-authored draft ordinance to prevent the proliferating chain stores in Ojai at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The proposed ordinance, which would ban chains from a Historic Commercial District, regulate them in other areas, and more or less welcome them to open along Maricopa Highway, west of the “Y” shopping center, was previously rejected by the Planning Commission and many vocal members of the public.
But at Tuesday night’s meeting, council members listened to the testimony of some public speakers with a very different perspective.
Ernie Salomon, owner of the Matilija Street building which was previously leased to Subway before the council passed an anti-chain moratorium, said that such an ordinance was going to negatively affect property values in town.
B. Dawson, owner of a local pet care shop, agreed, saying she thought a Starbucks was not as bad as empty storefronts, the latter which have recently grown in number, in Ojai’s downtown core.
Ron Polito said that though he turned down offers from Quizno’s and Starbucks to open in his newly redeveloped commercial center on Ojai Avenue, he would not recommend a stricter ordinance against chains. Insurance and loan companies he worked with were hesitant to finance his project when they read about the ordinance in the newspaper, he said.
But local resident Marika Thompson disagreed.
“I think part of the problem is the high rents in Ojai,” she said. “It’s not just the fact that we don’t want to allow chains.”
Though speakers offered conflicting opinions, most agreed that the city-proposed ordinance should be revised without including a Historic Commercial District council members Rae Hanstad and Sue Horgan both encouraged Ojia citizen Kenley Neufeld to proceed with the initiative process and hand in his proposed initiative.
“I am concerned that crafting the ordinance in a thoughtful timely way is going to upset the 600 people that are in support of Mr. Neufeld’s ordinance,” said Hanstad.
“What we want is good policy. I would encourage him to proceed if it seems appropriate because I do not know what our final decision will be.”
The staff’s revised ordinance will be presented to the Planning Commission on Sept 5 and reviewed with the Planning Commission’s recommendation by the City Council on Sept. 11.


Furry Herbalist said...

For the record, I am not in favor of turning ANY street in Ojai into a neon strip-mall hell and was in favor of Council voting down the proposed ordinance. But those who believe that keeping out formula stores means no competition for Ojai small businesses are wrong. Ojai businesses already compete with any store offering similar merchandise in Oakview, Ventura and on the internet. I count among my competitors a half dozen other small pet shops in the area as well as PetSmart, Petco and Wal-Mart.

Thoughtful integration of a wide variety of businesses contributes to the vitality of any town and offers people of all economic levels and fashion/food tastes something to come downtown for. Nothing warms the cockles of a business district's heart like the sight of locals and tourists strolling down the Avenue window shopping, popping in and out of stores as their interest is piqued according to individual tastes.

Council heard from business owners on Tuesday night. These are people who have direct experience with what it takes to run a business - meet payroll, find financing, deal with State regulations and market their product. Marika Thompson, in refuting my comment that financing a new small business is tough, said she was sure the money was out there....somewhere. Sure it is, if you have personal equity (ie. a home) to secure the loan!

Yes, rents are high here in Ojai, but they pale in comparision to those in places like Carmel. Empty storefronts are hard to come by up there, businesses seem to be able to pay the bills. Could it be that a diversity of businesses - sole proprietor and formula alike - drive enough foot traffic so that everyone comes out a winner?

Those who have their money invested in their business are intimately aware of what it takes to stay afloat. We live with it everyday and sometimes spend sleepness nights wondering how we are going to make it work in the face of an economic downturn or in the face of internet shopping or in the lack of locals shopping locally. Our knowledge of business is more than just an inch deep.

The very economic life of this town is at stake right now. I urge a thoughful approach such as a CUP for formula stores who want to local in Ojai. Choke off vitality with restrictive ordinances and Ojai's charm won't survive.
B Dawson

Anonymous said...

Because again, B, what tourist
wants to come visit and spend at
a destination resembling everywhere
else on Chainstore Avenue? The charm you hope survives in Ojai
has been because of long range thought and planning on what makes for an original small town in a time when fewer remain. Your point is well taken coming from a merchant, so perhaps consensus building amoung yourselves to what you see works best as true and effective value in revenue stream. PL

Furry Herbalist said...

Ojai doesn't have to become "chainstore avenue" in order to have vitality, charm and a good economy. Once again, Pete, you misrepresent and distort my comments.

Who in Ojai considers Ben Franklin a chain store? It's Ojai's Ben Franklin where hundreds of school children have gone to buy construction paper and glue for school projects. Parents have purchased party supplies for countless birthdays and retirement celeberations.

Ojai's exsisting formula stores would not be able to expand or change location with out a difficult CUP process if the proposed ordinance is passed. This unfairly restricts businesses that have been valued members of this community longer than many of the more vocal proponents of the ordinance. I have a problem with that.
These businesses have provided raffle prizes, silent auction items and bought ads in High School year books.

Good formula stores who have integrity and a commitment to the community they do business in should be welcomed in Ojai. A CUP process would allow for that as well as control of the number that work for Ojai.

It's called balance. The human race needs more practice living in the middle instead of at the extremes. And that's the heart of my point.

B Dawson