Santa Paula Times

Council votes to end relationship with HVTB, withhold contribution

April 24, 2009
Santa Paula City Council

Ending the relationship with the Heritage Valley Tourism Bureau and moving forward was the decision of a majority of City Councilmen who Monday night officially cut ties with the regional agency.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesEnding the relationship with the Heritage Valley Tourism Bureau and moving forward was the decision of a majority of City Councilmen who Monday night officially cut ties with the regional agency.Santa Paula had been a charter member of the bureau - formed to promote tourism throughout the Santa Clara River Valley - for more than a decade.The Council voted 3-2 to sever ties with the bureau ... Mayor Ralph Fernandez and Councilman Dr. Gabino Aguirre preferred to continue funding and wait and see if the relationship and bureau services would improve, but Vice Mayor Jim Tovias and Councilmen Bob Gonzales and Fred Robinson urged the breakup be finalized.The withdrawal also meant that the approximately $18,000 balance of the city’s annual contribution will not be paid to the bureau, criticized by area representatives and merchants and as well as the Councilmen majority as not benefiting Santa Paula.The Council majority also voiced their concerns that the issue had morphed to become a personal one after HVTB representatives bashed City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and local business organizations as well as Santa Paula bureau board representatives at an earlier meeting.The April 20 hearing was the third time the Council had considered bureau issues.Fillmore Mayor Patti Walker, asked that the Council honor its monetary commitment for the current fiscal year and noted that the bureau has “worked diligently” to provide equal treatment.Supervisor Kathy Long, said her aide Martin Hernandez, would welcome the city’s commitment to remain a member even at a reduced monetary contribution.Kathleen McCreary, HVTB interim president, another Fillmore supporter, defended the bureau and presented a statement listing the bureau’s marketing accomplishments.The 3 1/2 page statement also listed “key service level deficiencies” including lack of communication with several key stakeholders, the concern of stakeholders regarding bureau office hours of operation - which critics said did not exist - and staffing duties as well as the deficiency of by-laws which would be revised for the mutual benefit of the organization and its members.Former Mayor John Procter said he had been lax in keeping the Council up to date on bureau activities, just one of the many agencies/committees he had served as a Councilman.“I think the unilateral withdrawal of this money” would be said Procter “the de facto” end of the bureau.
Gonzales said he wanted to honor the commitment but that numerous discussions with businesses showed no support for the bureau.He asked about bureau finances and once satisfied that the bureau had the funds to make it through the end of the fiscal year, Gonzales signaled he would support withdrawal and holding back the balance of the city’s contribution.Gonzales added that he had not appreciated the previous presentation by bureau representatives that implied the Santa Paula Downtown Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce were “like vipers” conspiring to obtain the funding for themselves.In response to Aguirre’s questions McCreary said the bureau only became aware of problems when approached in November by a “citizen of Santa Paula” who informed them of the city’s dissatisfaction.Tovias noted later that Bobkiewicz had sent a letter regarding continued funding to the bureau in December and “There was no response to our letter ... “When assigned four months as the Council’s bureau representative Robinson said he looked forward to the duty to improve tourism in the river valley.“On many levels,” he noted, “there’s a major disconnect here” and although “I was looking for a positive influence for the City of Santa Paula frankly I have not found it.”Overall, dialogue between stakeholders is “Too little, too late ... I was extremely discouraged at the board meeting, it was disorganized and things not properly put on the agenda.”Overall, Robinson said he found the bureau “Very dysfunctional ... “Aguirre urged that the Council continue the relationship for the balance of the year and urged more and stronger Santa Paula bureau board participation but Robinson noted the bureau directors included “Some of our best and brightest ... the relationship is broken, I don’t know how I can be more blunt about it.”Tovias noted that the bureau has received $100,000 in a decade from the city and stakeholders believe “there is no return on the investment ... “ and the allegations made “against our people, I was very uncomfortable with that.”In addition, Bobkiewicz informed Tovias that with the economic downturn “There may not be enough money to fund the fireworks” an expenditure Tovias said he would prefer over bureau funding.“The damage is done,” said Gonzales. “At this time I don’t know if we can mend the damage.”