Friday, November 13, 2009

How out of touch are city leaders?

There were a couple of eyebrow-raising incidents at Tuesday night's city council meeting that might make one wonder if some of our city leaders are out of touch with what's going on in town.

The first incident happened when the council was voting to relax some of its overbearing signage laws that regulate every little detail about how businesses can advertise their goods and services with signs. For example, banners can only be used to promote a new business or a change of ownership. And window signs can take up no more than 15 percent of window space.

With the holiday shopping season coming up and with businesses struggling to keep their doors open, the Chamber of Commerce pushed for an urgency ordinance to relax some of these restrictions. Being able to advertise and promote their businesses a little more freely might go a long way at this time of year.

The urgency ordinance needed a supermajority vote or it would fail. Luckily for business owners, 4 council members voted in favor. But one did not. That was Larry Schroeder.

"I just don’t want to give up the charm of our Village, the small town charm, for a possible short-term gain,” Schroeder said.

During his campaign for the city council last year, Schroeder's platform was largely based on promoting economic development in the city and fiscal responsibility on the council.

But now it appears "charm" outweighs economic viability for city businesses whose owners are desperate to find new and creative ways to attract more customers. Anyone who has listened to Claremont's business owners knows that signage restricts has been a serious problem. I would think a councilmember interested in economic development would know that by now.

Besides, I think business owners in the Village have some sense of what's appropriate and what isn't. As Councilmember Sam Pedroza noted, "Our businesses know how to do business. I highly trust that businesses know what's good for them and if they're going to be tacky, they're not going to be very successful in this town."

In any case, the ordinance passed. Businesses will have more free reign to use A-frame signs and banners throughout December 31, 2010. In the meantime, city staff will be reviewing Claremont's outdated signage laws in order to bring them into the 21st Century.

The other curious incident happened when the council was discussing the bailout of the Claremont Museum of Art. City Manager Jeff Parker was describing some the key businesses in the Packing House other than the museum.

"[The museum] has been one of the cornerstones [of the Packing House] along with the restaurant that unfortunately had the fire and the other restaurant on the other end, the Mediterranean restaurant, and the Hip Kitty and the children's cooking school there."

Does the city manager honestly not know the names of The Forks, Casablanca and The Young Chef's Academy - businesses he sees as "the cornerstones" of the Packing House? Maybe he was just drawing a blank at the moment. I certainly hope so.

The Forks has been shut down since December 2008 because of an electrical fire. Problems with securing money from their insurance company have delayed the owners from re-opening. But they are hoping to be up and running soon. I'm planning to get a complete story on The Forks and their future plans in an upcoming issue of the Courier.

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