Column: Sometimes they listen

Some citizens talk too much at city council meetings. They somehow are authorities on everything. 

Others don’t speak at all. That’s too bad. I am here to report that sometimes your elected leaders will actually listen to what you have to say. And, dadgum, they may even change their mind.

On March 5 the Oceanside City Council was considering whether it should direct staff to create an ordinance that would allow the city to start lending money to upstart businesses.

It was aimed at getting new businesses to fill up empty downtown storefronts.

If the council voted to proceed, a city employee would spend staff time researching how the city would launch this program, which called for $500,000 a year to be pulled out of the general fund annually so that about 10 to 15 low interest loans ($25,000 to $50,000) would be awarded.

But just one week earlier the council had identified pressing capital improvement needs like upgrading grungy beach bathrooms.

In previous meetings Councilman Jerome Kern said the city should not be in the TV business; the process of handing out big block grants to KOCT were ended. Nor, he said, should the city be in the mobile home park business. The city has spun off its only city-owned park.

But now the city was considering becoming a bank? Gee, Mr. Kern, that’s a strain of Republicanism I’m not aware of. Sounds more like Hugo Chavez than Ronald Reagan to me.

There is no doubt that if this loan plan went through, that people who couldn’t get business loans otherwise would be lining up around the block for these big checks from the city.

But how would Oceanside decide whether we get a new cafe or a new gift shop?

And how would the city decide which folks get this civic bequeathed-booty and which don’t?

I implored the city to instead focus on its obvious needs: fix the potholes on Industry Street; fix the street lights near the residential train wreck at 415 Grant St. so that its property manager can’t blame the crime that hovers around that complex on the city; reopen Marshall Street pool so that we can get kids off the streets and into the pool.

I also suggested (as someone who has gone through it) that our city should not make new businesses pay the huge business startup fees all at once, all up front — that future new businesses could be allowed to pay these fees in increments as they get up and running, say over two years or so.

When it came time for council members to speak, only Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said she was against Oceanside giving out startup loans. All four of the others said — to varying degrees — that they would support it.

Kern initially seconded Councilman Jack Feller’s motion to approve, saying that while he was “on the fence,” he thought it might overall be a good idea. But as the discussion continued, Kern changed his mind, saying (paraphrasing here) that the city is, in fact, not set up to administer small business loans.

When the vote came down, Mayor Jim Wood and Kern joined Sanchez. It was defeated 3-2.

At least three council members admitted that my idea that deferring business start-up fees was something that should be considered.

And what about the potholes? City Manager Peter Weiss said all of Industry Street needs to undergo major rebuilding, but that other major thoroughfares like El Camino and College Boulevard will first get the grease first. He says the potholes are getting addressed.

Regarding 415 Grant St., he says the city does replace streetlights as they get shot out, and that the city is now protecting streetlights in difficult neighborhoods with bulletproof Plexiglas.

Mr. Weiss also explained that he is happy to lease out the Marshall Street pool for $1/year to any responsible group willing to run it. But he explained that the pool’s old pumping equipment is simply not energy efficient and its huge energy bill has chased away potential operators. He says the city should tap into a grant to upgrade the pool’s inefficient pumps. “It’s not the cost of personnel (lifeguards), it’s the chemicals and the energy expense,” that keeps tenants and the city of Oceanside from reopening the pool.

My city council listened and the city manger took time to explain.

And I promise I won’t show up at every meeting.

Oceanside born and raised, Ken Leighton writes columns for The Coast News, the San Diego Reader and is an Oceanside business owner.

 

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