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.

Candidate Sojka’s Economy Bolstering Programs Approved

Sojka delivers Business Advocate, Business Roundtable for City

Pro-business ‘Vision’ adopted by City Council as part of 2010-11 balanced budget

SIMI VALLEY – Simi Valley City Councilman Steve Sojka announces approval of two of his proposals to bolster the local economy in Simi Valley. The addition of a Business Advocate and Business Roundtable for the City of Simi Valley were included as part of the Council’s approval of the fiscal 2010-11 Budget on June 21.

“Even though I can say we are more business friendly than we were 12 years ago, we are not where we need to be,” said Sojka, the leading candidate for Mayor of Simi Valley in the November election. “This is a step toward where we need to be.

“It comes down to streamlining the process, which creates jobs, and more jobs creates a better local economy, which creates a better City budget.”

The Council on Monday approved, as part of the budget for the Community Development Agency, a Business Advocate. This senior management analyst position would focus purely on assisting any business existing or planning to open in Simi Valley with any necessary action such as proposed improvements, relocating here, or application processes.

The Council also concurred on Steve Sojka’s proposal to form a Business Roundtable to bring together businesses that already have gone through City processes, along with City administrators, management and even the City Attorney’s office if necessary to discuss processes and the needs of Simi Valley businesses small, medium or large.

“In tough budget times, it is good to have a vision,” Sojka said, “and that vision is to support, supply, promote and create jobs. With these actions, the City has greatly enhanced its connection to, and liaison with, the local business community,” Sojka said.

The Business Advocate position becomes effective July 1. The Business Roundtable will return to the Council for further discussion in coming weeks.

“I think it’s awesome. Anything the City can do to help a business get through the red tape is a great thing,” said Darrell Coletto, owner of the First Auto Group, a prominent auto dealership in Simi Valley. “The sooner we can help businesses grow and expand, and hire employees, and increase the City’s sales tax revenue and boost the local economy, the better.

“If we can get that done, then these are great ideas,” he said.

Coletto applauded the proactive pro-business actions by Sojka, who currently serves as Chairman of the City’s Small Business Advisory Committee which is responsible for the Shop Simi Valley First campaign.

Steve Sojka is a three-term Simi Valley City Council member, starting in 1998, who twice served one-year shifts as Mayor Pro Tem. A lifetime resident of Simi Valley, he has been a business owner and active community volunteer and leader in Simi Valley for the past 25 years. His father Bob Sojka was Chief of the Simi Valley Police Department; and today Steve Sojka proudly serves on the Board of Directors for the Simi Valley Police Foundation. Sojka and his wife Laura have three children in Simi Valley schools.

Steve Sojka is endorsed for Simi Valley Mayor by current Simi Valley Mayor Paul Miller; Council members Glen Becerra, Michelle Foster and Barbra Williamson; former Mayors Bill Davis, Ginger Gherardi and Ted Grandsen; former City Council member and County Supervisor Vicky Howard; former City Council members Nancy Bender, Dave Reese and Howard Rogo; Simi Valley Board of Education President Jeanne Davis and Trustees Janice DiFatta and Eric Lundstrom; former Simi Valley School Board members Carla Kurachi, Judy Barry and Steven Gould; Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District Board members Gene Hostetler, Mark Johnson and Dee Dee Cavanaugh and former Park District Board member Jim Meredith; Simi Valley Planning Commissioners Mike McGuigan, Tim Shannon and Jim Dantona, Jr.; and former Commissioners Rick Kunz and Bob Swoish.

Sojka also is endorsed by dozens of other leaders from community organizations representing police, education, business and youth sports and services interests. For a complete listing visit

In the Simi Valley Acorn Today!

I couldn’t be more delighted about the Simi Valley Acorn article that was published in today’s paper about my efforts to shine a light on Simi Valley.  I truly hope it’s read as a humble effort.  I want very much to be successful with this project, but I certainly don’t believe I’m better than anyone else or more qualified than any of the other community super-stars who are currently making an impact.

Chandler, 34, said his goal in creating the website was to help educate people about the goings-on of local government and to get them excited about the process.

True, that was definitely the idea at first, and certainly what brought to life, but I want a whole lot more with The Simi Show.  I want to show people that we’ve got a terrific community, full of good people, great businesses, family fun and valuable community services.  The Shop Simi Valley First campaign WILL come up, but it will be less about budgeting and effectiveness and more about why shopping in Simi is just better than leaving the city!

Councilmember Steve Sojka, a proponent of the shop local campaign and chair of the Small Business Advisory Committee, said Chandler’s criticism of Shop Simi is misguided. Sojka said that some local pizza places have bigger advertising budgets than the campaign.

Though they may differ on issues, the council member said he thinks “The Simi Show” is a good idea—if done right.

“It’s good to get people engaged,” Sojka said. “I hope that whatever issue he deals with, he does his research. It’s easy to create a controversy, but you want to see someone who just reports facts in a fair and balanced way. That does the community a good service.”

I like Steve Sojka, but I don’t think he believes that.  He takes my criticism personally it seems and suggesting my criticism is misguided makes me wonder if he understands my point.

Shop Simi Valley First shouldn’t be about targeting the businesses.  Businesses should be participating in the program by contributing to its marketing, not sitting back and waiting for the city to spend money.  Why?  Because they benefit too.  The target is SHOPPERS and if local retail numbers aren’t increasing measurably after spending $100K, then shoppers either aren’t getting the message or it simply isn’t working and new strategy is needed.  Pizza places with $100K marketing budgets have them because they produce measurable, financial results.

I want to find really cool businesses, shops and business owners and showcase them individually, one by one.  It’ll take some time and it’s a slow process, but it’ll show my audience some of our community’s great features, as well as bring in some curious new customers to some retail shops.  Plus, it won’t cost me too much.

Chandler said he hopes to expand “The Simi Show” by inviting outside contributors to add their own content, including interviews, hard news stories and perhaps guest commentaries. He also wants to profile local businesses and cover the landfill expansion issue.

I really want to do as much as I possibly can.  Employment is a big concern for me now considering our economy and I’m feverishly working on a portal to present Simi Valley job seekers with powerful tools to find work.  I’m also a big believer in the power of the Internet and want to provide an online community for everyone in Simi Valley to do the exact same thing that I’m doing.  The technology is there… I just want to open the door and let my fellow Simi Valley citizens join the party.

If that’s misguided, so be it!

Read the full article in the Simi Valley Acorn here.

UPDATE: Brian Dennert mentions the article here.  Thanks Brian!

Simi Valley and Local Businesses

Ted Mackel published one of the most interesting articles I’ve read related to the City of Simi Valley and how they work with local businesses.  As a local business owner, I definitely found his take interesting.  His first point grabbed me immediately…

The Future of Simi Valley Retail is under attack and round one will prove to be tough reality for Simi Valley as the Thousand Oaks Mall will again take shoppers away from local businesses.

It’s an excellent point.  Rumor has it, the Oaks Mall began its redesign phase in direct response to the potential threat to its business resulting in new area malls, namely Simi Valley Town Center.

The opening of the Simi Mall was a well celebrated event in our town, promising an influx of new sales tax dollars to Simi Valley’s general fund.  Of course, small business owners, like Bruce Witkin (former candidate for Simi Valley mayor) were disenchanted by the idea of a mall that takes shoppers from the smaller strip malls and plants them in the Town Center mall, despite the increase tax revenue to the city.  You see, this particular example of increased tax revenue represents a potential loss to small business owners who aren’t in the mall, including restaurants.  Remember Hudson’s Grill?  Who’d have ever expected that restaurant to close?  But they did, and the reason they cited was the loss in foot traffic resulting from the new mall.

Ted goes on to discuss not only the Oaks Mall redesign, but also the Topanga Mall’s planned enhancements as well…

Something this exciting and this large will definitely draw shoppers out of Simi Valley and no matter how much our Chamber of Commerce and our City Council fight to convince Simi Valley residents to “Shop Simi Valley First”,  these two modern and behemoth projects (TO & Westfield) that bookend our town cannot be willed away.  This is like trying to hide and elephant under the living room carpet.

Give the article a read by clicking here.  It’s not a message of doom, but rather a few suggestions from someone with a few generations of real estate development under his belt.

Simi Business – Room for Change

This month, the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce will honor its selected Business and Business Person of the Year for 2008.  The honorees are chosen and like most years, the names and businesses are names and businesses you know.  I always hope that each year I’ll read the names of someone I’ve never heard of before whose business or business activites were the diamond in the rough, the quiet hero of the business community.  But it’s never so…

That’s not to say the people the Chamber selects each year aren’t deserving.  They definitely are.  These business people are well known in the community because of their honorable contributions.  However, there are so many more business people and businesses that are members of the Chamber who contribute to the community significantly.  Unfortunately, if they’re not the type to be comfortable in a setting where there’s a lot of handshaking and passing of business cards, their contributions can easily go unnoticed.

For more than 25 years, there was a Simi Valley business owner who contributed significantly to the youth of our city.  His business taught kids physical, athletic skills regardless of whether or not they were naturally gifted athletes.  Many of these student athletes became employees, teaching the next generation what they learned as kids.  Simi Valley kids were taught they could achieve what they thought was impossible, in a nurturing, family-oriented environment.  This business taught without discrimination, including even kids with disabilities, proving to everyone that even kids with special needs could thrive.  This business was a member of the Chamber of Commerce since its opening day, but was never recognized.

This is the story I tell people when they ask me what I’m trying to accomplish with my various websites and online videos.  There’s a lot going on in Simi Valley and the more we all know, the tighter a community we will be.

The Candidates Forum

An eventful trip, even without my video camera. I enjoyed some good presentations, some questionable ones, flirting with Barbra Williamson, cheering on Bruce Witkin, and Steve Sojka politely and professionally suggesting that I might be an asshole… he may be on to something.

Check back for an explanation on Mr. Sojka’s view on my position on the Shop Simi Valley First Campaign and my interview with the very engaging Mr. Jashinsky.

Simi Valley Candidates Forum,t=1,mt=video

Regarding the Simi Chamber…

Yes, I’m miffed that I don’t get to bring my camera crew pals with me to the Candidates Forum sponsored by the Chamber next week.  But as Barbra Williamson pointed out:

The Chamber of Commerce is not in the “citizen” business.

She’s right.  It’s easy to forget (because I do it all the time) that the Chamber is a business like any other.  This concept slips my mind due to my past participation in the organization as a volunteer.  Further, this point was made by a reader/commenter on Brian Dennert’s Ventura County Star Page:

They are always begging the City Council for taxpayer money for special projects. Now, when they have the opportunity to give something back to the community, they try to discourage citizen participation.

I think that best describes my level of surprise yesterday.  However, there will be plenty of opportunities for me to complete my project and my personal mission to bring local issues closer to Simi Valley voters.  I’m not as discouraged today!

Chamber of Commerce Denies Camera Access!!

The following says it all.  I’m extremely disappointed and let down.

 —–Original Message—–
From: Mike Chandler
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2008 9:43 AM
To: Stacey Pistole
Subject: Candidates Forum


I operate a website dedicated to broadcasting issues and news about the local Simi Valley election.  I make use of online articles and online video to get the word out about who’s running and why.  I am also a Chamber member.

I have already registered for two participants for the Candidates forum on the 15th.  Could I get the Chamber’s permission to bring my video camera to record the forum?  I would give both the Chamber and Acorn full credit in the final production.  Further, I’d like your permission to conduct on camera interviews with members of the audience both before and after the event.

I have a very small footprint and can assure you that I’d go relatively unnoticed.  Please do let me know if this is acceptable.  It’s critical for my project.

Best regards,

Mike Chandler
RM Web Effects, LLC

 Her reply:

——Original Message——
From: Stacey Pistole
To: Mike Chandler
Sent: Oct 8, 2008 10:11 AM
Subject: RE: Candidates Forum

Hi Mike
I just talked to Leigh Nixon our CEO.  We are already contracted with iBreakthrough – Kevin Green.  He will be video taping and it will be used to stream on Chamber website.  I am not sure if you can use any of his footage for your project.  You can contact him at (805) 520-3378.

Stacey Pistole
Programs Manager
Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce
Main 805-526-3900
Direct 805-520-8223
Fax 805-526-6234

To which I replied…

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Chandler
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2008 1:35 PM
To: Stacey Pistole
Subject: Re: Candidates Forum

Hi Stacey,

No, I can’t really use any of his footage.  I’m not asking you to contract with me.  I just want to video tape the presentation.


Mike Chandler

And received the final answer below…

The Chamber is only allowing one camera in the room.  I am sorry. 

Stacey Pistole
Programs Manager
Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce
Main 805-526-3900
Direct 805-520-8223
Fax 805-526-6234

With all due respect, this really stinks to high heaven in my opinion.

Out of Reach Candidate Forum

If you’re as fascinated with local issues as I am, you definitely want an opportunity to hear what the local candidates have to say before the November 4th election.  If you’re NOT a member of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, then DON’T COUNT ON getting that opportunity.  What follows is from the member e-newsletter:

The Candidates Forum will be held at the Lost Canyons Golf Club at 11:30 a.m.; admission is $20 for Chamber members and $50 for non-members. At this writing, thirteen candidates have accepted the invitation to participate in the Forum and they are:  Audra Strickland, Carole Lutness, Cameron Smyth, Debbie Sandland, Brad Jashinsky, Ray Cruz, Rob Collins, Paul Miller, Bruce Witkin, Barbra Williamson, Steve Sojka, Daniel Jenkins, and Richard Carter.  John Loesing, managing editor of the Simi Valley Acorn will serve as moderator for the event; and voters may submit questions for the candidates in advance to the Acorn at

Pay careful attention to times and entry fees… No doubt, this is NOT a forum meant for the average, working class Simi Valley voter.  If any non-Chamber members plan to take the afternoon off of work and pay $50 to attend a moderated forum, I’d very much like to hear about it.