Business Challenges in Simi Valley

It’s been referred to in letters to the editor, comments on this blog and Brian Dennert’s, as well as comments on the Ventura County Star. Depending on the nature of your business, moving shop to Simi Valley can be a difficult and expensive task. It is one of the issues that should be addressed by all candidates for City Council and Mayor.

When I consider my own business endeavors in Simi Valley, setting up shop was a relatively simple and inexpensive task. I leased space in a small office, registered for my business name and opened my accounts, paid my Simi Valley business tax, and that was that. But if your business requires construction, zoning changes, or anything else that may modify existing infrastructure, you’ve got quite a task ahead of you, not to mention tens of thousands of assumed costs.

For the next several months, I’ll be following a specific case of a business owner setting up shop in Simi Valley. His business exists currently in another city, but he wants to bring it in Simi Valley where he lives. He has faced several obstacles and has had to dig deep to pay for thousands of dollars worth of unexpected costs. His desire to press on and bring his business home is motivating him to continue, but his frustrations are building and his concern that his dream won’t pan out are starting to feel more real.

As these milestones are reached, I’ll share his progress and hope that our candidates are prepared to address these issues and propose their solutions.

Open Letter to Challengers

To the Simi Valley City Council Challengers:

Times are changing and technology now allows you to reach out to a much greater audience. Simi Valley voters are interested in who you are and what you’re about. Some of you will post campaign signs, send mailers and knock on doors. But if you don’t get your message out to enough voters and don’t compel them to vote for you by addressing the issues, you will NOT be victorious.

Voters are ready to hear what you have to say. They’re ready to hear what you don’t like about the sitting Council. They want to know what issues concern you, and how you intend to fix them. You can call the City Council names and suggest they aren’t effective, but if you don’t explain why that is and what you’re going to do about it, you WILL lose.

I have offered all City Council Challengers the opportunity to speak live via an audio stream on the internet, broadcasted from this website. So far, only Council Candidate Mitch Green has agreed to participate.  I am moving forward with Mr. Green to coordinate this live, real-time discussion with him on the issues that matter to him and what he intends to do to address them. Anyone who knows how to point their browser to this website will have access to listen to the live broadcast.

If any additional challengers for Simi Valley City Council wish to participate, please let me know.  If you have no intention to respond, I strongly urge you to reconsider.

Good luck!

No Candidate Campaign Disclosures Public Yet?

Two years ago, the city of Simi Valley promptly published candidate campaign disclosure statements on the city website. The information was fascinating, to say the least. Not to mention the fact that it raised a lot of questions about campaign financing, what was legal and what was not.

We’re approaching the month of August and no current campaign disclosure statements are available on the city website. We might be able to get copies of them if we show up to the City Clerk’s office in person, but the purpose of a website is to provide information like this simply, quickly and in a cost effective way. If you go to the City Clerk’s page on the website, you’ll see a link to the disclosure statements from last election.

Hey, City of Simi Valley! We want to see how these candidates are having their campaigns funded! Get those disclosure statements online!

UPDATE: Steve Sojka, Candidate for Simi Valley Mayor, just clued me in. Thank you, Mr. Sojka! He said:

The reason the financial statements are not on the website is because the filing period doesn’t close until August 2nd for City Council and August 11th for Mayor.

In that case, I’ll close with a resounding “nevermind!”

The reason the financial statements are not on the website is because the filing period doesn’t close until August 2nd for City Council and August 11th for Mayor.

Political Appointments in Simi Valley Should End

Both Michelle Foster and Steve Sojka were appointed to the Simi Valley City Council to fill empty seats outside of an election cycle. I have nothing against Michelle Foster or Steve Sojka and believe both have served the community well. However, I would like to bring an abrupt end to the political appointment process and put the selection of ALL City Council members back in the hands of voters.

Two years ago, I made reference to a special election in Moorpark that took place to fill an empty City Council seat.  The seat was vacant after a sitting Councilmember, Janice Parvin, was elected Mayor of Moorpark. The process involved appointing an interim Councilmember to fill the vacant seat until the election could be organized and executed, resulting in a new permanent Councilmember elected by Moorpark voters. Without a doubt in my mind, I firmly believe this is how it should be handled in Simi Valley.

If you consider the upcoming ballot for Simi Valley voters, it’s hard to say at this point whether or not there will be a vacant seat on the City Council. Though both campaigns for Mayor are in full swing, I have yet to identify a front-runner. I suspect that as both candidates begin to focus more on the issues, we’ll see voter reactions and get a clearer picture. Suppose, however, that Councilmember Sojka is victorious in his bid for Mayor. The current procedure would be for the Council to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, and Simi Valley voters won’t have a say.

I plan to follow-up with the City to find out what we need to do to put these choices back in the hands of Simi Valley voters. I personally feel like I would be a shameless hypocrite if I didn’t put forth some effort to change that policy. The purpose of this website is to celebrate free speech and democracy, after all! And while you may trust the judgment of the City Council, I’m pretty comfortable with my own judgment as well.

I am curious to know who supports this idea, so please leave some comments so we can discuss.

Shop Simi Valley Campaign Working?

Two years ago, I was critical of the annual budget of $100,000 allocated to the Shop Simi Valley First campaign. To me, it seemed like an extreme amount of money on a campaign whose results are near impossible to measure. For example, is a spike in local shopping and tax revenue a result of a successful Shop Simi Valley First campaign or the outcome of a restoring economy/tax refund season/Holiday shopping season? How can you really know for sure?

A recent study discussed in the Ventura County Star indicates that I might be wrong in assuming the campaign’s success was not measurable. According to this study, the campaign is working, or at least it has been for the past three years. The specifics of the study are important. Let’s take a closer look at the facts first by concentrating on this portion of the VCSTAR article:

The marketing campaign was launched in 2004 to increase shopping in Simi Valley. About 25 percent of the city’s general fund comes from sales taxes.

The study results were based on interviews conducted in May with 300 Simi Valley residents 18 or older.

Research company owner Bill Davis told the committee the study found that since 2007, the last time a study was conducted on the campaign, public awareness of the Shop Simi First slogan has grown from 46 percent to 72 percent.

Obviously, 300 Simi Valley residents is a far cry from the real population, but I still believe the study is credible. It’s likely that the 300 residents represented multiple age groups, occupations and income brackets for a fair representation of the city’s population. There are more scientific ways to represent a fair average of a larger population, but we can assume the focus group was diverse.

The results include:

* In 2007, 34 percent of respondents said the slogan had affected their willingness to shop locally. This year, that number jumped to 44 percent.

* In 2007, 42 percent of respondents said they did not purchase outside Simi Valley. This year, that number grew to 47 percent.

* But the number of respondents who said they made purchases outside Simi Valley, 51 percent, stayed the same.

Looks good, right? Naturally, the next question is how did this increase in awareness of the program effect the city’s bottom line? Like before, I want to know if that a measurable metric or if it’s always going to be something that remains an unknown. Considering human nature, we can all be aware of what’s best for our local economy, but we’re ultimately going to make a decision that works best for us as individuals. This has to do with product availability, product selection and pricing. If selection is greater in another city and prices are cheaper in another city, that’s where the shoppers are going to go. Is Simi Valley a bedroom community like it’s been referred to for years, or is it changing into a shopping destination? Of those two, what do we want it to be?

I’m a believer in shopping locally. If you check the top right corner of this website, you’ll always see the Shop Simi Valley First logo prominently displayed. But until we know for sure how well this is working for our city, I would still prefer to limit the budget on this campaign and see the Chamber of Commerce step in as the primary owner of this effort.

Glen Becerra at Governor’s Roundtable

Becerra shares City’s experience of Union and Management working together for pension reform

Pension reform is a term voters will hear much about in the months ahead. Government agencies in California, from the State on down to the cities and special districts, are acutely aware of rising retirement program costs.

Gov, Schwarzenegger this month hosted a pension reform roundtable in Sacramento – and Simi Valley City Councilman Glen Becerra was invited and participated, at the suggestion of the League of California Cities. See the Ventura County Star article.

Glen’s invitation to serve the roundtable was good news for Simi Valley, and excellent timing by the Governor. The City of Simi Valley this month ratified a new contract with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that includes precisely the type of pension reform movement the roundtable aims for.

Participation by Glen Becerra and the City of Simi Valley in the statewide debate allows Simi Valley officials to share their concern and the real impact of rising pension costs on the level of services cities can provide to their residents.

As Glen stated in the Star article, it is noteworthy that Simi Valley’s retirement contributions a decade ago totaled $1.8 million, representing about 4 percent of the entire City’s budget. Today that same cost sits at $8 million, or 15 percent of the City budget – with projections that it will hit 20 percent in the next five years.

“It will impact the quality of life for our residents,” Glen Becerra told the Star.

He added that the City’s SEIU bargaining unit was a cooperative partner in negotiating the new contract. It is important for employee groups and government agencies to work together to address the challenges, with the ultimate goal of making the government agencies more healthy financially to ensure their long-term success.

For further information see