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Amidst Cuts, Chamber of Commerce Asks City to Invest in Marketing Plan

Chamber CEO Courtney Conlon asked the city to pitch in nearly $55,000 for a searchable database of empty commercial real estate and enhancements to the visitor center, among other things.

The Chamber of Commerce demonstrated a willingness to work with the city in marketing Pacifica to tourists Wednesday night that some say hadn’t been seen in decades.

At a special budget study session, Chamber CEO Courtney Conlon laid a plan out simply: If the city contributes $54,500 to the chamber, her organization can immediately supplement an ongoing public relations and marketing campaign to promote tourism to Pacifica, enhance the visitor center on Rockaway Beach Avenue, design a centralized community calendar and develop a searchable website listing all unoccupied commercial real estate in city limits.

The timing of the pitch might seem odd because the city is currently looking for ways it can , but Conlon said that this plan would pay off in the end by increasing city revenue from a transient occupancy (hotel tax) and additional sales tax paid at local businesses.

“The city is experiencing financial hardship,” Conlon said to the city council. “We stand before you tonight to offer assistance with both short-term and long-term solutions that will enable the city to generate the much needed revenue to retain its vital city services." 

The reactions of the three councilmembers at the study session—Len Stone, Mary Ann Nihart and Sue Digre—ranged from cautious optimism to hedged skepticism. 

Councilman Stone was enthusiastic about the possibility of working with the chamber to create new marketing tools for the city, especially if the chamber’s plan could be funded à la carte, meaning the city could pay for the online empty real estate database but perhaps hold off on a community calendar, for example.

“We’ve never invested in raising our revenue,” he said. “I’m happy the chamber put forth a solution and means of doing that. This has never happened before.”

Still, he said, this may be something the council will need to consider funding five or six months down the road.

Councilwoman Sue Digre said she’s hesitant to fund an expansion of services at the chamber when she still meets business owners in town that were or are dissatisfied with what they’ve been getting out of the organization as is.

Conlon acknowledged that in the past the chamber may not have been the most active in serving its members, but that’s changed and last year its membership grew by 20 percent.

Councilwoman Nihart had several issues not with the marketing plan presented Wednesday night, but with the idea of funding the chamber at all.

She asked to see the most recent details about finances in the nonprofit and a breakdown of exactly what the city would be spending its money on.

“We can’t give money to something we don’t know will be there in a while,” she said Thursday morning. “I’m not implying anything, but you want to make sure the company is okay when buying a window. Also, there were not financials or anything outlined as to what we’re spending money on.”

Nihart’s concern about the chamber’s finances is perhaps justified based on its recent financial documents filed with the IRS. 

From 2007 to 2009, the chamber’s revenues have fallen while its expenses have gone up (revenues fell from $268,896 in 2007 to $255,800 in 2009 and expenses rose from $264,428 in 2007 to $275,288 in 2009) leaving it with deficit of nearly $20,000 in 2009. 

According to chamber Treasurer Cheryl Yoes, revenues in 2010 were flat and expenses were “way up”, meaning the deficit would have increased.

However, keeping revenues flat in economic times like these “isn’t bad,” said chamber member Jim Wagner, and the chamber listed about $140,000 in assets and savings on a document filed with the IRS in 2009, which can soften the impacts of a defecit.

When asked whether money given to the chamber by the city would specifically and only be used for the services outlined in the marketing plan, Conlon said it would.

In the end, Nihart said she just didn’t know where the city would find the money to purchase these services from the chamber and nothing was decided at the study session. The chamber’s proposal has not been placed on any future city council agenda for further consideration.

Chamber members have not given up, however. Conlon said they will continue to lobby the council to take a vote and approve this marketing plan, which, in the long run, she believes will pay off in spades. 

Thomas H. Clifford May 08, 2011 at 02:01 AM
The way things post on this site is a little confusing. Some new post are added to the end while others are inserted in the comment thread. Does anyone else find it a waste of time to go back an hunt for a comment?
Bhatman May 08, 2011 at 05:03 AM
If this "marketing plan" is such a sure fire winner then it would seem that the Chamber membership would be falling all over themselves to raise the money, since they are the ones that benefit. I'd like to see a list of which Chamber members have funded this plan and what amounts, before public dollars are used to support private interests.
Markus May 08, 2011 at 04:47 PM
@ Bhatman: "since they are the ones that benefit". All Pacificans will benefit if businesses and commercial enterprises grow and thrive here. They provide local jobs, goods and services for locals and visitors and most importantly the needed tax revenues. As a homeowner, I'm going broke trying to keep up with never ending tax, fees and assessment increases. Its time we put a greater effort to bring vitality and take the pressure off the property owners. One thing I've learned from my many years in business is It Takes Money to Make Money. Hats off to the chamber!
Rocky Golub May 08, 2011 at 06:20 PM
Sorry to sidetrack this thread but I believe the last comment by "Rocky" deserves some attention. "Rocky" stated, "Sorry if my name has created confusion". I pointed out my concern a month or two ago and yet you persist in using just plain "Rocky". You make no attempt to distinguish yourself as I am now doing by using my true surname. The fact that you have chosen to omit your last name, fake or not, even after I pointed the identity problem out to you, shows me that you are not "Sorry" about anything. Rocky Golub
Chris Porter May 08, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Lionel, get a life.
Peter B. Olinger May 08, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Development of a successful business environment must be predicated on a solid city infrastructure provided by the essential services of police, fire and public works. Therefor the City of Pacifica Chamber of Commerce together with our citizens need to make it clear to our elected officials and city management that nothing short of funding our police, fire and public works departments before providing funding to any other activity or service is acceptable.
Thomas H. Clifford May 09, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Peter; You seem to be saying that the City of Pacifica should only be looking at the cost cutting side of the picture. The revenue side of the picture is at least as important if not more so. The City has a economic development committee that is working on recommendations on how to increase revenue and many of those recommendations duplicate what the Chamber is offering. It maybe more cost effective to partner with the Chamber then trying to go it alone. That is why I am recommending that the City Council take a hard look at the merits of the Chambers Plan.
Bhatman May 09, 2011 at 03:58 PM
And where so you think the $54K is coming from? Homeowners! How much would Pacifica businesses have to "grow" so as to break even to pay back the taxpayers? This is public funding of a SCAM to put money into the pockets of some "friends of the City" that does no good for citizens of Bell, er, Pacifica.
Bhatman May 09, 2011 at 04:00 PM
You would think the head of our local CofC begging for public funds would be a little more polite. No public money for the CofC (get a real job).
Peter B. Olinger May 09, 2011 at 04:36 PM
No I am not. Nevertheless, our city has been headed in the no growth direction over several elected city governments and appointed managers - not just the current administration. We the citizens of Pacifica are ultimately responsible as we have voted for the policies and individuals who have served and presently serve our city. Again, at this point in time our city's essential core services - Police, Fire and Public Works - need to be funded in order to recover and maintain a city infrastructure that will sustain current and future economic development. Elected city government and appointed management can then prioritize and provide remaining budget to other city programs and services.
Scotty May 09, 2011 at 06:01 PM
This is just the type of long-term investment in our future that Pacifica needs. It's just too bad that council has already run the city into such a financial ditch that we can no longer afford it. It's a shame we can't get back some of the money that Vreeland pissed away on grease refineries, studies on how to build an ocean-view city hall, endless consultants, etc. to fund things like this that will truly raise revenues.
Scotty May 09, 2011 at 06:05 PM
I am not you. But of course, you could have just written that.
Todd Bray May 09, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Scotty those expenses pale in comparison to the insurmountable wall of cash senior staff, department heads, fire and police take home every month. If you really want savings and a fix for our structural deficit you need look no further. Whining about grease factories, trails and such is just a distraction from our chronic compensation to our senior employees, as you yourself well know. When 80 plus employees are clearing more than a hundred thousand a year and more, each, out of our sleepy little town the cause of our structural deficit is quite clear and it isn't trails, consultants and refineries.
Scotty May 09, 2011 at 09:15 PM
True enough, but please go bat down your straw men elsewhere. I'm fairly certain that this article is about the Chamber of Commerce proposals, which the money wasted on those boondoggles could have easily funded.
Scotty May 09, 2011 at 09:27 PM
Instead of developing a separate new web-based community calendar, they could just maintain one using the functionality already built into Patch for free. I'm sure Camden wouldn't mind them linking to it.
Todd Bray May 09, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Dear sweet innocent publicly funded Scotty, you agreed with me then said something about batting a straw man down. There is no straw man Scottster, no bat down going on, but I like your out of context misuse of the term straw man. Getting to know you better!
Cindy Abbott May 09, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Had a similar thought, that there so many existing event websites already -- use something existing versus adding to the clutter. My full response to this post was too long for these comment threads and therefore is out in the Opinion section.
Scotty May 09, 2011 at 11:20 PM
The rest of us were talking about funding the chamber's initiatives (you can read the article right on this very page, way up at the top). You then came up with some wacky straw man argument about fixing our structural deficit. I don't have the patience to make it any simpler for you, but you might try Wikipedia.
ian butler May 10, 2011 at 01:34 AM
I think Chris owes Lionel an apology. Neither the Chamber nor Recology should condone this level of dialogue.
Cindy Abbott May 10, 2011 at 01:57 AM
Comments are "inserted in the comment thread", I think, when the commenter chooses to "reply" to the individual comment instead of the option to comment at the end of the page that applies to the article and comments as a whole. I'm cool with how it works, as otherwise, specific replies wouldn't always make sense without hunting back and finding the context.
Mary Brown May 10, 2011 at 04:11 AM
Ian, I don't think Chris owes Lionel a thing. I think Lionel owes Chris an apology.
ian butler May 10, 2011 at 05:11 AM
Mary, here is Lionel's only comment on this thread, please explain what part you think Lionel needs to apologize for, and why you think it it warranted Chris to exhort him to "Get a life". Thanks. Lionel: "Come on Chris, the comments below are right on the money. A scanner and a Word program; it's not that hard to put a .pdf on a blog. Even I have done it with the garbage rate increase protest letters!"
Mary Brown May 10, 2011 at 05:17 AM
Ian, seriously. If you were aware of the background here, you would not even ask the question. So I will say it again. Lionel needs to apologize to Chris. Chris has done more for this community than any other single person I know. Lionel has cost the city (and all the homeowners in town) a lot of money and nothing has changed. I think "get a life" is pretty mild. I would have some other things to say if I were in Chris's shoes.
Mary Brown May 10, 2011 at 05:39 AM
If we all took the high road, we wouldn't have to point out others inability to take the high road. People seem to have come to this thread with an agenda. Sadly no one is learning anything. I have yet to see anyone saying anything constructive, or anything that shows that they have the full story. It is so easy to sit back and take potshots. Not so easy to try to come up with ideas for helping Pacifica. Pacifica needs our help and people sit around and post useless comments. This is getting silly. I'm going to stop now.
Cindy Abbott May 10, 2011 at 06:26 AM
Mary, Several people have commented with support for developing strategies that will increase revenue for the City. What has also been suggested is the need for additional information; though a 13 page writeup, there wasn't a lot to substantiate what exactly would be done with the funding, data to support the assumptions and methods for tracking results. I have detailed out some questions that came to mind when I was reading the proposal; see link below that is on another section of Patch owing to its length. I hope the Chamber will share their background data and specifics on strategies that will be undertaken. As the Chamber presented this package, I hope that the next step will be to inform the community and help fill in the "full story". http://pacifica.patch.com/announcements/thoughts-regarding-chamber-proposal-for-funding
Bhatman May 13, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Do you think that the CofC "marketing plan" is comprehensive enough to qualify for a bank loan? No? Then why should the City give then a grant? If they think their plan is such a money-maker let then ask for a loan from the City with a repayment schedule and their personal property as collateral. Hey CofC keep your hands off out tax dollars!
Scotty May 14, 2011 at 12:50 AM
People will take you seriously as soon as you provide repayment schedules and personal property as collateral for your next snake bridge or plover corral, Hallman.
Eddie Shore May 15, 2011 at 01:59 AM
The really crazy thing is no one complaining about the CofC plan right now stood up before City Council the numerous times they allocated $100,000 here, $300,000 there for hairbrained schemes like the City hall by the Sea and the Pedro Point Headland trails . . . which were PROVEN to be money losers!! Same with the grease refinery. I had no faith in the Yes Man clown who ran the chamber like the Fox News satellite of City Council for years. Under his "Eagle" Eye I would have told the Chamber to pack sand with any money requests. Under the new management, I say give the Chamber a chance. If anyone can draw more revenue to the city, I trust them more than City Council, especially Jim "Money Pit" Vreeland. I'm sure the CofC can draw up a few more details on their plan.
Bhatman May 16, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Snotty you can seem to stick to the subject. Was this always a problem for you?
Carol Camacho July 13, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Wow, just got done reading this thread. Since this post I see the CofC launched the, Visit Pacifica site & The Mercury News posted an article of the website launch(dated 7/5/11) http://www.mercurynews.com/pacifica/ci_18413325. (Sorry if links aren't live). So, the CofC moved forward with some of it's plan. But to maximize the campaign efforts you must interconnect your websites & social media forms together. It's a win, win situation; all done by the Internet & social media for free. I cannot tell you how strategic moves with social media can benefit this city. The CofC's website needs to insert a tab to the new Visit Pacifica website & visa versa. You want to make it easy for the "potential consumer" to get to the information as fast as possible. And, the City of Pacifica needs to get on the social media band wagon, it's not going away and is only becoming stronger. Not connecting, tells this day & age consumer that you only want to feed them info one way, therefore dictating. People need to know your listening. The plus to this is free feedback & ideas that can lead to potential city income or improvements. San Bruno & Millbrae have great Facebook pages. They get it. The possibilities are endless, think outside the box instead inside the tax payers wallet.

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