Steve Sojka for Mayor – Part 1 of 3

I’ve asked both candidates for mayor a series of questions and Councilmember Steve Sojka was quick to respond. It’s important to note here that I have not yet received any answers back from candidate Bob Huber.  Mr. Huber would like to meet with me personally before answering these questions and we’ve been unable to connect.  I expect an answer to these questions from Mr. Huber in the near future and it’s worth mentioning that he’ll see Mr. Sojka’s answers before submitting his.

Simi Valley voters have expressed concern about the state of our local economy.  One concern is related to local businesses.  I asked both candidates a question about businesses in Simi Valley closing and Steve Sojka provided a thorough response.

Vote Simi Valley: What do you say to voters who express concern regarding the closure of businesses in Simi Valley?

Steve Sojka: I have the same concern regarding the closure of any business here in Simi Valley. I have been fighting for Simi Valley businesses for the past 25 years and the last 12 years as a businessman on the City Council.  Unfortunately we are experiencing the by-product of the worst economy we’ve seen in decades but I believe the worst is behind us and we’ll start to see some improvement this year.

Last month I was briefed by our Dept. of Economic Development and we examined the vacancy rate for businesses in Simi Valley and it is currently at 5% which is much better comparatively than the County or State, but is still not good enough for my hometown.  That’s why I am continuing to fight for local businesses by Chairing the Simi Valley Small Business Advisory Committee which produces the successful “Shop Simi Valley First” program educating residents on the importance of buying from local businesses.  This Committee has also provided a series of FREE Business Workshops to help local businesses navigate through items such as: Financing, Marketing, Business Plans, Permit Process etc…All in the name of helping Simi Valley Businesses grow and prosper.

I also believe that government sometimes needs to get out of the way of business and let the Free Market take hold.  I have been working hard at City Hall to streamline the Permit Process so that we can encourage entrepreneurs to expand and grow their business which ultimately provides jobs for our residents.  As Mayor, I will develop a “Business Roundtable”  which will put Business Owners, Planners, Inspectors, City Management and the Mayor all in one room to discuss ideas on becoming more business friendly and provide solutions to the hurdles that business owners face today.

Ultimately if we want to help small businesses, we need to attract big businesses here.  As Mayor of Simi Valley, I will continue working to attract and develop clean industries to Simi Valley like Hi Tech, Bio Tech, Film and Aerospace which bring with them high paying jobs that create disposable income and increases the wealth for all of Simi Valley.

My sincere thanks to Councilmember and Candidate for Simi Valley Mayor Steve Sojka.  For more information regarding his campaign, check out his newly launched website at http://www.sojkaformayor.com/

8 thoughts on “Steve Sojka for Mayor – Part 1 of 3

  1. While I believe that Steve has been a dedicated public servant for our city over the years and cares deeply for our city, I don’t necessarily agree with the status quo mentality for local businesses. Shop Simi First is not a panacea to our problems. the program is more than 20 years old and our businesses are still struggling.

    Economically we are facing several very severe issues that will just not go away on their own, nor will an end to the recession address or fix our local business community.

    First, a city or community needs a proper ratio of housing to commercial business. Unfortunately, our city going back many councils and many mayors has mistakenly believed that we would draw enough outside shoppers to help keep that ratio in check.

    Simi Valley is not a shopping destination nor will it be in the future, as we are book ended by a beautiful new comprehensive upgraded Thousand Oaks mall and the future development slated for the Topanga Plaza and the Promenade will seriously impact any attempts to lure or keep Shoppers in Simi Valley. We need to look within our own community and provide the support for our shops. This creates its own problem in that we do not have enough residents in the city to support the commercial development we have allowed over the last 15 years.

    The city budget partly functions off sales tax revenue and the pressure for the city to provide services for the citizens encourages city planning to add as much commercial development as possible to provide the revenue for those services though sales tax. However, the delusion that we are going to bring sales tax dollars in from outside Simi Valley is the core issue any committees, councils or grassroots groups will have to grapple with if we are to help support our local businesses. The “Field of Dreams” mentality with commercial in this town ” if we build it they will come” needs to be dropped and replaced with a more realistic goal.

    Adding residential units and population to support our local Simi Valley businesses is unpopular. However the toothpaste is out of the tube and now the unpopular decision is going to be our only choice.

    Prime example, McDonald’s is seeking a conditional use permit for the corner of Galena & Cochran. While I like McDonald’s just as much as anyone else, here we go again take a non-retail use, make it retail, and just add to the pressure of the other retail vacancies at the corner of Sycamore and Cochran.

    The city ought get smart and incentivize some of our other retail owners in the area to accommodate this McDonald’s. The first building that comes to mind would be the old Blockbuster building which would be a far better location for McDonald’s as the freeway visibility in high-traffic area would probably generate double, triple or even quadruple the sales tax revenue that tucked away the location in the Farmer’s parking lot could ever create.

    The second issue that no one is talking about, is that many of the businesses that closed up, are closing up out of obsolescence, not because of the economy. Because these styles of businesses have been pushed out by the Internet and the big-box discounters; they are not coming back when the recession is over. Just understanding this fact alone would lead me to push for a moratorium on any future commercial development in Simi Valley. We are all nervously watching the new Target at Los Angeles Ave & Madera and what will happen to our existing Target on Cochran. Sure there’s probably some thoughts that the Target on Cochran will stay open but I’m not too optimistic for that. A reasonable person understands that we do not have the population to support two Target stores, especially with one just down the street in Moorpark.

    I live in this city, my wife and I have been raising our children in the city, my family has a big stake in the city and we would like to see Simi Valley prosper, but what lies ahead for us as a city is far more than what is being talked about. I don’t expect our two candidates for mayor to have all the answers, however it would be refreshing to see the real issues concerning our local businesses addressed and that’s as I outlined above – our residential to commercial ratio and the significant paradigm shifts in business that are affecting small retail.

    Ted Mackel
    Simi Valley Resident
    Author http://www.HomeBuysBlog.com

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  2. I appreciated Steve Sojka’s interview very much and was impressed that he took the question up front and straight on, without having to meet in person first.

    Regarding Mr. Mackel, a lot of words and ideas, but some disclosure should be required. Such as, who is in charge of leasing commercial space across the street from Galena and Cochran, the location of the McDonald’s proposal?

    And Mr. Mackel suggests to offer taxpayer dollars (an “incentive” of some sort) to put a McDonald’s between a Denny’s and a big Chevron station, across the street from a popular family cafe? Not a good idea.

    The City can only be asked so much in terms of “fixing our local business community.” Ultimately businesses themselves shoulder some burden. For example, agreeing to lease space to a Jersey Mike’s when there is a Togo’s already nearby, or to one supermarket when there is another just a mile away, is not the City’s fault.

    Small retail can compete and win in the market.

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  3. Gary,

    Probably full disclosure would be better. 😉

    My family only controls half of the south side of the shopping center on Cochran. That being, from Carillos/Bank of America to the west. Fishman’s still control the property directly across from the proposed McDonald’s site.

    My father has probably been the biggest protector of the local businesses at Sycamore and Cochran than any other person in the city of Simi Valley. Going back in the mid-90s for example – Smith’s Food King was able to convince the city of Simi Valley to change the residential zoning at Sycamore just off the freeway across from Reardon’s mortuary into a commercial shopping center. We fought that project vehemently. We were very lucky that Smith’s Food King pulled out of Simi Valley and out of California. Could you imagine if we had retail on that entire site right now? That is only a small example of how dedicated my family is to preserving the existing businesses that reside in the entire retail corridor at Sycamore and Cochran.

    There is already discussion in the city to create a redevelopment zone from Galena and Cochran all the way down to where my offices are in the old Paul’s Italian Villa building. This means the city already understands this and is planning to set aside incentive money (taxpayer dollars) to support and attract businesses back into this area. Placing a McDonald’s in the old Blockbuster building is not a threat to Denny’s or Millies’, my point is twofold.

    First, McDonald’s could generate far more sales tax dollars for the city at the Blockbuster location rather than being tucked away from all the retail in the farmer’s parking lot.

    Second, that out parcel on Farmers property is conforming more as an office use and not a retail use. Since we have enough retail blight and vacancy, why encourage additional retail square footage in the area?

    Blockbuster has been sitting vacant for a long time and with that big fat Mervyns sitting vacant behind it, it sure would be nice to have a high volume generator that would get other retailers interested in coming to the Mervyns’ site.

    I’m not sure what your point is with Togo’s and Jersey Mike’s. When you go to a mall there’s a reason why they create food courts. It’s not only a traffic flow and design feature but the food businesses tend to do better when grouped together. You’ll see the same thing with auto dealers. I could say the same thing, why did the owner of the Togo’s building put in a Sharkey’s? Also, the Togo’s location is not on the prime side of that building. That building was divided into four units when the commercial market was hot, business owners had a different attitude and took chances on locations that would not be as desirable in a down economy. There’s a reason why Sharkey’s and Starbucks are on the front side and there’s a Dentist on the back. As you said, ” ultimately businesses themselves shoulder some burden”, well Togo’s picked the location. We talked to Togos about the bottom of our Two story which is a far better location with way more exposure, but they wanted to be in with Starbuck’s. I made the call personally early when they had the location down at Royal and Madera. We would have had a Togos and then Jersey Mike’s would have never come to our center.

    My family is hands-on with the merchants in our center, we know the business climate probably better than most people down at City Hall, and we understand what it takes to attract people to shop at our local businesses.

    The fact remains simple and clear the city’s residence population is not large enough to properly support our local businesses and this is due to the fact of how we’ve allowed our city to develop over the last 15-20 years. Unfortunately the Crown Jewel attractions to the east and west of Simi Valley will make it increasingly difficult to attract shoppers to come to Simi Valley and to keep our local citizens local.

    When we as a city take our foot off the neck of our local small retail – Yes I agree, Small retail can compete and win in the market.

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  4. I really like Steve Sojka, and what he actually had to say in his response in this interview. It is true that government needs to get out of the way of business, and let the free market separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of the good and bad businesses in town. Sometimes we see vacancies because, let’s face it, some businesses in town just are not good. You cannot blame the City for that.

    I love the concept of a “Business Roundtable” for Business Owners, Planners, Inspectors, City Management and the Mayor to discuss ideas for the City to become more business friendly and provide solutions to the hurdles that business owners face today. (City employees will dislike this, but oh well).

    This is the type of idea that comes from someone who has run a business in town and also from someone who has heard directly from businesses in town for the past 12 years while with the City Council. It is hard to imagine that a personal injury lawyer has heard from as many business owners in Simi Valley the past 20 or so years. That’s direct, on-the-streets, “from the trenches” experience.

    I knew about Steve Sojka from the newspapers through the years, but I was happy to learn more when I found out http://www.sojkaformayor was online.

    Sara Stevens

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  5. Sojka said some things about the Free Market that I liked, but there were also some things said that I didn’t like.

    Sojka doesn’t hesitate to call the Shop Simi Valley First campaign successful. I seriously have my doubts. If the City doesn’t want to get rid of SSVF, they should at least consider drastically cutting its $100,000 budget by keeping the website and reducing ad time and ad space around the City.

    Sojka lost me at the end when saying, “Ultimately if we want to help small businesses, we need to attract big businesses here.” Although he mentions a few industries that would create disposable income, staffing in those industries is typically either small or temporary (film). Also, most of the businesses invited by the City have been corporate consumer-based chains, which have taken away from competing small businesses.

    In the end, the City needs to largely stay out of the way and stop trying to influence the Free Market. It’s not up to the City to solve the market place. Typically, more problems arise from trying to do so.

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  6. In the past 12 years, the following major employers have opened in Simi Valley with many new jobs here, many of which are high-quality jobs: Alcoa Fastening Systems, Meggett Safety Systems, Qualstar, Milgard Windows, Tel Air, The Kidney Center, American Vision Windows, Vista Professional Lighting, Video Shopper and SMC, to name a few. The City Council in which Steve Sojka has been a part of has done a fine job attracting new, large employers to Simi Valley.

    I don’t see any “corporate consumer-based chains” on that list.

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  7. I checked Bob Huber’s web site and saw that he blames Prop. 13 for the city’s economic woes. That settles it for me. I’m voting for Steve Sojka.

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