Faced with one of the biggest issues ever to confront the Northeast San Fernando Valley, three local chambers of commerce are merging in hopes of having a louder voice when it comes to the area’s pending redevelopment.
The Greater Northeast San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce would combine the chambers of San Fernando, Pacoima and Mission Hills together into one big group, creating a single lobbying focus for the most important business leaders in the Northeast Valley.
“Redevelopment is a major issue and to be a business organization here, we have to step in the middle of it,” said Larry Mouchawar, president of the Mission Hills Chamber of Commerce. “We need to look at the most prudent way to help (redevelopment). There needs to be a level playing field balancing between the community, politicians and business interests.”
The new organization will have a combined membership of more than 400, making it one of the Valley’s largest chambers. And the first issue it plans to tackle is Northeast Valley redevelopment.
The L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency has been struggling to map out a redevelopment zone in the communities of Pacoima, Panorama City, Sylmar and Sun Valley. The CRA’s proposals have been sharply criticized, and last month the deeply divided project area committee, an advisory board on redevelopment comprised of business and community members, voted to disband because they could not reach a consensus.
Funds for the future
The CRA’s plan would divert $490 million in property tax revenues generated by the 6,835-acre area over the course of four decades, putting the money into a redevelopment fund separate from the city of L.A.’s general fund. The money would be spent on redevelopment projects meant to lure business and developers to the area.
The business community has so far been divided on the issue, with some small-business owners concerned that the CRA might use its power of eminent domain to displace them. Under state law, owners of existing businesses and homes in a project area can be forced to move to make way for a renewal project.
Councilman Alex Padilla, who backs the redevelopment plan, has proposed eliminating the city’s ability to use eminent domain on residential properties.
While none of the three area chambers has taken a formal position on redevelopment efforts, the unified group could garner considerable clout in shaping redevelopment if it were to take a specific stance on the issue.
Martha Diaz Aszkenazy, head of San Fernando-based Pueblo Contracting Services Inc., will serve as president of the new chamber. She said the group wants to work with government officials in a non-threatening manner, but added that there may be some disagreements on how to progress.
“This issue is emotionally charged,” Aszkenazy said. “The community has long gone without development money. Anyone that tries to put a halt to (the CRA’s redevelopment plan) may be seen as anti-community or racist.”
Aszkenazy said the group wants to look into whether the city’s approach is the best way to maximize tax dollars.
Saul Gomez, economic development director for the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, said the combined chamber will be a loud voice for businesses in the area. Members will include Eddie Milligan, operator of Hansen Dam Equestrian Center in Lake View Terrace; Walter Mosher, owner of Precision Dynamics Corp., a medical products manufacturer in San Fernando; and the heads of Hamer Toyota and Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
“These four people alone coming together in one fell swoop is quite a coup,” Gomez said. “They will have a strong voice for or against redevelopment.”
Much of the Northeast Valley has been left behind in the current economic boom. The area is home to 40 percent of the Valley’s population but just 25 percent of its jobs, according to a CRA study. Average per-capita income is $9,266 a year, compared with a citywide per-capita income of $16,188.
Not getting its fair share
One of the biggest complaints from business leaders is that the area has been neglected.
“We feel like we don’t get all the benefits (of other parts of the city). And we have a lot of need,” said Bob Schaub, director of human resources for Precision Dynamics, which has been heavily involved in Northeast Valley business issues.
The three Northeast Valley chambers have been working on their merger for the last six months, though it has been talked about for at least the last five years. Though the merger has been approved by the boards of all three chambers, their members must still vote in favor of the pact, which they are expected to do by July 1.
The unified chamber would then meet in early July to map out its strategic plan and its position on issues facing the area, including redevelopment.
Other tasks of the united chamber will include lobbying for more police and fire protection, which businesses have long found lacking in that part of the Valley. The group also would like to encourage more manufacturers and other companies that offer high-paying jobs to move to the area.
“If we have strong businesses in the area, that lends to economic development,” Aszkenazy said. “We can attract those businesses if the area is seen as business-friendly.”
Aszkenazy said the merger will allow the chamber to compete with other local organizations for business members. The new chamber plans to offer business-training programs and focus more on regional business rather than solely on small-business issues.
“We can offer an expanded full-time staff,” said Patti Friedman, CEO and president of the San Fernando Chamber. “We’ll have more money to offer programs once we consolidate our resources.”
The group plans to work closely with the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley and Councilman Padilla’s office to attract businesses to the area. Aszkenazy said it may even consider a marketing campaign to lure in outside businesses and retain those considering a move.
“People go to Santa Clarita because they market their region better,” Aszkenazy said. “This area has a lot of potential. But it needs a lot more marketing.”