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Publication Date: Friday, May 25, 2001

Chamber asks city to pay for business services Chamber asks city to pay for business services (May 25, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

After a tumultuous year in which the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce saw plans for a new office in the downtown transit plaza fall through, and found out that its $1-a-year lease with the city would be upped to $20,000, it is trying to get the city to pay for its services.

At a Tuesday night study session, Chamber President Carol Olson discussed a proposal that would have the city pay the chamber $51,634 annually for services that include producing city maps, information sheets and relocation information for businesses; handling phone inquiries; and providing business development services.

Olson said that since the chamber will begin paying $20,000 a year to the city in rent for the land under its office adjacent to Pioneer Park, the organization is looking for ways to pay for services it currently provides.

"Back in 1963, when the city offered this land to us at a $1-a-year lease, our predecessors had an agreement that we would be doing that in exchange for services provided to the city," said Olson. "Now that we are paying rent, we have an additional expense to our bottom line."

Olson said most of the chamber's funding comes from dues from its 650 members and from fund-raisers such as the annual Art and Wine Festival. She said she did not know what services, if any, the chamber would have to cut if the city does not pay.

But Olson said the $51,634 would cover the current value of services provided. She added that in doing so it would recoup the costs of the $20,000 lease and leave extra money for the chamber to increase the level of service it provides.

Although the council will not take action on the proposal until later this year, council members raised questions about the proposal at the study session.

A central issue was whether the city would pay for the services the chamber provides if the chamber did not do so.

"If the chamber weren't doing these things, what would the city be forced to do, or what would the city be willing to take money out of the general fund to do?" asked Council member Rosemary Stasek.

Stasek said that she sees the chamber's location-downtown, next to city hall-as an important asset, since visitors seeking information can walk into the chamber office, rather than the lobby of City Hall. She said that if the chamber cut off these services, or moved to a different location, as has been suggested recently, the city might have to provide some of those services itself.

"If the chamber is not going to be downtown in this very prominent location, people are going to be wandering into City Hall to ask the same questions they wander into the chamber for," said Stasek.

She said she considers the lease agreement a separate issue from the payment for services question.

"The city alone isn't going to make or break the chamber's financial future... The chamber has had some fundamental financial changes. The days of the $1 lease are over," said Stasek.

Council member Ralph Faravelli said, "the chamber is an asset to the city of Mountain View, as far as I'm concerned," but added that he didn't know if paying for chamber services would be the best use of over $50,000 of general fund money, especially if those funds could be used for new youth programs. Council member Sally Lieber expressed similar concerns.

Faravelli said the best option might be to pay the chamber $20,000 to cover the cost of the lease, since that would not deplete the general fund and would keep the chamber at its current funding level.

Olson said she is prepared to negotiate with the city on the issue, and would not necessarily be opposed to a deal in which the city would pay the chamber the amount it pays the city for its lease, even though it would return the chamber-city relationship to the same basic financial terms of the $1-a-year lease.


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