Sojka Acts on Farmers Departure

Sojka to propose Cochran Street Recommendations from Businesses

Councilman interviewed businesses most impacted from Farmers move

Simi Valley City Councilman and Mayoral candidate Steve Sojka today announced his intention to introduce for City Council consideration the Cochran Street Recommendations from Businesses – a package of suggestions by local business leaders in response to the relocation of employees by Farmers Insurance.

In response to the recent announcement by Farmers to relocate their Cochran Street Regional Facility, Councilman Sojka interviewed a majority of owners and managers of businesses within the immediate vicinity of the Farmers building at Cochran Street and Galena Avenue. Sojka sought their input and ideas as to how they felt that the City of Simi Valley could be of assistance until a new tenant is found for the 250,000-square-foot commercial building.

“I have walked the entire area and talked with the majority of business owners and managers within eyesight of the Farmers building, listened to their ideas and suggestions, and now plan to propose those recommendations to the City Council for implementation,” Councilman Sojka said. “I was pleased with their openness, and with their ideas to move forward.”

What the owners along Cochran Street, Galena Avenue and Sycamore Drive adjacent to the Ronald Reagan Freeway (118) suggested, and what Sojka will recommend, include:

  • Temporarily removing certain restrictions of the City Sign Ordinance, including limits on temporary signs, banners, and monument signs. Such restrictions would be removed only until the Farmers building again is occupied.
  • Waiving the Business License Tax for small businesses physically located within one half mile of the Farmers building until the building is occupied.
  • Allowing for sidewalk sales and other similar special promotions, which may otherwise be currently restricted.
  • Expediting the process to declare a new Redevelopment Zone that would encompass Sycamore Plaza, the Target Center, the Mervyn’s Center, and the Do-It Center. This would allow small businesses in those areas to apply for low-interest loans from the City’s Community Development Agency loan program, and would also allow them to participate in expedited renovation projects.

Sojka will ask for City Council concurrence of these recommendations at the next City Council meeting on Aug. 30, and request that the Council direct the City Attorney and City Manager to bring back the recommendations for formal City Council action at the Council’s Sept. 20 meeting.

The recommendations would be on top of actions already undertaken by the City since Farmers’ sudden announcement in mid-August which included:

  • The formation of a Red Team to expedite finding a new tenant for the building. The Red Team will include representatives from Farmers (which continues to hold a lease on the building and has a vested interest in finding a new tenant), the City Council, City administration, and the economic development community.
  • Sending letters to more than 1,200 commercial real estate brokers in Southern California seeking their assistance in the tenant search.

“While Farmers’ announcement caught this community by surprise, we need to recognize that this soon-to-be-available building presents an opportunity to go after industry in growing fields such as health care, energy conservation, or ‘green’ industries,” Sojka said. “It is a highly visible and accessible building that can attract clean industry with high-paying jobs which can create new income for our residents and in turn create profits for our local businesses.”

While there has been some speculation that the City had knowledge of Farmers’ intentions to relocate and could have prevented such a decision, the City has received a letter (attached) from Lonnie Sproat, Farmers’ Vice President – Commercial Operations, confirming that there was nothing the City could have done to prevent the consolidation action. “We want you to know that the decision to relocate our employees and consolidate our offices to Woodland Hills was solely a business decision. We have been very happy with the Simi Valley community and the support from the City Council and the Mayor,” the letter states.

“The Farmers announcement was disappointing, and Simi Valley residents who work at the Farmers facility will now need to commute to Woodland Hills, but we are fortunate that no Simi Valley residents will actually lose their jobs,” Sojka commented. “The bad news is 1,200 employees who used to shop nearby before and after work and during breaks will not be around until that building is filled again. Our community needs to join together at this time for these area businesses and assist them. I believe strongly that our businesses can survive this if we all work together.”

21 thoughts on “Sojka Acts on Farmers Departure

  1. Good comment, Heather. I don’t think showing a little excitement in the area will hurt, particularly since any potential newcomer to Farmers will understand it’s temporary. It also will be refreshing to see all those businesses trying new things and competing with each other. I like the fresh ideas. Definitely better than the knee-jerk reactions we were seeing right after the announcement.

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  2. Ted, they are ALL public meetings, and if you have ever been to one of my meetings its’ pretty informal. We/ I let the audience participate so long as it’s constructive

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  3. Doing “something” in the name of reacting to a situation may make things worse, rather than better. No matter what is done, the Council has much to consider.

    The Farmers move will not happen for many months into 2011. As far as reductions or eliminations of certain ordinances, nothing be done now.

    Some of the ideas above are suggested as remaining in place until replacement can be found. There is of course the possibility that the building will remain vacant for years to come. Will reducing standards on signage, etc., make the neighboring businesses more competitive or will it make the area a cacophany of signs and distractions that blight the area rather than support it?

    Also, the building may not find “a” tenant, but rather become home to many individual businesses. Do the tempory allowances stop at 50% occupancy, 75%, 100%?

    I see no ideas about alternative ways to use the Farmers’ property itself to drive retail traffic in the area such as with a Farmers Market in the parking lot. In San Luis Obispo, on Thursday evenings a street is closed for a Famers Market. There are so many additional people in that area that local shops stay open longer and the restaurants do outstanding buisness.

    Instead of reduction in standards, what about taking the opportunity to enhance the area and make it more likely more residents will shop there. The redevelopment notion rings positive.

    Each of the ideas offered should be considered. In doing so, a careful evaluation of the potential of unintended consequences should be on the table. Would other shopping centers that suffer reverses be eligible for similar treatment?

    Hopefully, a well thought out plan will lead to renewal of the area, a renewal that will lead long term viability. Will that answer be found in more banners and temporary sigs?

    There is never time to waste. Here, there is time to make sure the decisions made do not cause more harm than good.

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  4. Heather…It wasn’t just the Strawberry Venders. It was the people selling flowers on every corner, the ice cream peddler and t-shirts…just to name a few. The City Council had many complaints from local businesses that were in competition with these people. They got to stand on the corner and sell their wares and the property owner had to pay for a business license, workman’s comp, and employee salaries. Lately I have been contacted about the guys who own mobile car washes. They don’t adhere to the environmental laws like the regular car washes do, and once again we have the little men in the white suits at Vons…The City Council doesn’t go out looking for these problems, but when faced with requests solve them, that’s our job and right or wrong we tried to do it as fair and best we can.(we only reversed the Strawberry venders because of the public support they got. The others, however did not).

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  5. Laura,
    I don’t know if you remewmebr but we had a Farmers Market on Tapo Street (actaully closing off the entire street) and it just didn’t fly. I like the Market at the Mall, but maybe we could have two a week instead of just one?

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  6. Good ideas Laura, all of which need to be explored and will be. I am more concerned with what will actually locate there on a permanent basis as I am sure you are too. It’s a big building and it won’t happen overnight, but with the right marketing plan and forward thinking (out of the box) it will happen. We just need to be patient and not rush into something that we regret later.

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  7. I think one thing we(Ted included)are forgetting is that the merchants must be a part of this problem solving. It can’t be business as usual and they can’t dep0end on the city (tax payers) to be the solution. They need to think out side of the box as well and I haven’t heard anything about that…

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  8. Well Ted, that says a lot…Since you feel you’re the only one fighting for the merchants why aren’t the merchants fighting as well? What ideas have they come up with? What’s’ that old saying? “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem”.
    I can understand why you want them to be successful because if they close, you have vacant buildings and no income…so what are you doing to help? Are you reducing their rent for three months beginning in 2011? Or should this all be laid at the feet of the local taxpayer also known as the residents? It’s just a question, so don’t bite my head off for suggesting it. 🙂
    I also believe the chamber should get involved, however unless you are a Chamber Member they will not help. I think that is fool hearty. (And don’t forget, the chamber is made up of businesses, so why aren’t they willing to help each other?) They should prove that being a chamber member is beneficial and should take the first step in working with ALL businesses at this time especially where local business will be impacted the most. Who knows, maybe they will gain some new members?

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  9. Oh and Ted, don’t forget, it is a state law that the City has to put out an RFP for all contacts. So if we go to San Diego, we have no choice…it’s the law

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  10. See, you bit my head off…It was only a question. Talk about being disrespectful…You say some pretty nasty things about the City Council. And it wasn’t meant to offend. It was a question. How would I know what you do??? And frankly I don’t care if you show it to them. I don’t have a poor attitude towards them, if I did I would take my business elsewhere…….. You need to get a grip.

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  11. You know Ted, the more I thought about your remarks about me being disrespectful the angrier I got. I implore you to ask your tenants about me. Start by asking Dr. Sam Shields (he is my regular eye doctor)where just last month I purchase a $300 pair of reading glasses (no the city did not pay for them) then ask Stephanie at Born to Travel about our conversation last week about the 14 day cruise to Hawaii ( I always book with Stephanie) with my daughter next year, and oh, the tanning salon, I have a three month membership there (although you would never know since my legs look like shark bait from no sun), then there is One Hour Martinizing, Linda and Jim Wood where I take some of my dry cleaning, and the wonderful Mexican restaurant (I can’t spell their names, but you know who I am talking about). I go into Albertson, but they are not my main grocery store, I go to Von’s as it is closer to my home. Let’s see, I also use the One Hour photo place, and I went into the home furnishing place before it went out of business. I visit Staples from time to time and I am always in Home Goods…When we have closed session at the City we don’t have time to get dinner so we order dinner from…hold it…hold it..RED’S. So you just go ahead at talk with your merchants… And while we are at it, if Albertson leaves, I am going to blame you…like you blame the city for Farmers leaving. That makes about as much sense, doesn’t it?

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  12. You still didn’t answer the question…. You’re right, I have no idea, and so I am asking…What have you done? Don’t give us a bunch of double talk, answer the question. And again, what are the merchants doing…They are just as much a part of the equation as the taxpayer who you are asking to solve the problem.
    My response to you above was to your threat to go to the merchants with my response, I just was telling you who to start with.

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  13. Ted: The person you chastised for not having the “integrity” of putting both their first and last name on their post also suggested car shows and other uses of the Farmers parking lot with the notion of supporting retail/restaurant traffic for the businesses nearby. Instead of acknowledging that contribution, you elected to attack a single point. Then, after you hit that writer with the notion that the issue, in your words, “The businesses at Sycamore and Cochran are loosing a huge source of Lunchtime revenue.”, you thereafter claim that you never suggested it was about lunch revenue.

    How about this…What are your ideas? I am curious as you are there and must have some thoughts.

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  14. Ted,
    No one is blaming the merchants. Perhaps I should frame it this way: What is the plan of action by the business owners? Do they have a “merchants Association”? And two: I am not asking you to disclose anything that is confidential; I am asking if you, as a property owner with a vested interest in the success of the merchants, have a plan to help with the problem(s) facing your tenants? There is nothing sinister about that question, no disrespect, just a plain simple question, which you keep avoiding. And yes, I do have some thoughts, and I agree with you totally, a Farmers Market and Car Shows, and Chili Cook-offs are fine, but it won’t get the job done. It seems to me this is the time we should be working together not point fingers and saying who is to blame.

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  15. It appears folks have missed one important thrust of this post. Note in the release headline the word “from,” as in “from businesses.” Mr. Sojka is making his recommendations because they came from all the businesses he contacted. If those businesses thought farmers markets or flea markets would help them, they would have said so. But they did not.

    It appears at this time the City should focus on the task at hand, and that is helping the businesses directly affected, and how they want to be helped. They know their business best — not all the armchair quarterbacks here. Let them drive this.

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  16. Not Michelle Foster.I think that is a terrific idea. And will follow-up on it. Actually I have already spoken with a group of outside doctors who are interested, but this isn’t the place or time to discuss.

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