Opinion: Are we focusing on the right things?

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Seth Eaker

John Abrams, a noted business author once noted: “If the people who make the decisions are the people who will also bear the consequences of those decisions, perhaps better decisions will result.”

This past week, in a memo dated July 7, Main Street merchants received a “Courtesy Notice of Sidewalk Encroachment/Outdoor Display Laws” in which city staff asserts “a number of complaints” and “an increasing amount of sandwich board signs, racks of clothing, tables with merchandise, tables and chairs, and other items …”

I doubt if any business owner complained about such things in Seal Beach. Most of the business owners I know are just trying to entice a few more customers into their stores.

Interesting that the merchants I talk to are not concerned about these issues, they are concerned about other code issues.

Code enforcement in the city is by “complaint,” meaning that if you call, it will be investigated. I thought I would share a few concerns and highlight things that others might have missed from the business community standpoint.

There are an increasing number of individuals who are using our public spaces without event permits or agreement with the city for outdoor classes. This is prohibited by code. Where is the effective enforcement of that?

What about the “bandit” flower or candy vendors which move through our community with impunity selling their product without a business license or tax contribution? Where is the support for “No Solicitation” signs that are in many storefronts that others ignore – going so far as to interrupt customers and shop owners during a transaction? Where is the code enforcement on that?

Merchants are concerned about benches for their patrons to sit down outside their shop while others browse or wait for a table. They are concerned about uneven pavers which are far more of a trip and fall hazard along with the awful newspaper racks which lie unused and unkempt with graffiti.

Can we do something about those items? What about installing more bike racks or benches permanently by the city which would make it even more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists? If we encouraged more biking traffic, we may even favorably improve the parking situation.

There are groups which have gatherings on the beach in excess of the “exempt” number.

Those businesses and organizations who apply for permits and receive them have no advantage over those who simply do not get a permit. They actually end up paying for more than their fair share – as one friend and congregation did this past Easter sunrise service.

That congregation had paid, but another didn’t and saved the special event permit fee and the “beach use fee”—over $250 in savings. This is quite a bit for a church.

Neither service was interrupted so why be compliant? Is this a double standard or just lax enforcement?

We have inconsistent enforcement of various ordinances pertaining to how businesses conduct their business – what is outside, enclosed, noise, waste and appropriate or “compatible use.”

Just this past Monday there were several residence speaking about two years of complaints against a Main Street merchant.

While some of their concerns may have merit, what is the other side?

What about businesses, which have more understanding neighbors, are they held to the same standard?

Doubtful, as they simply don’t receive complaints.

When does business have a voice?

There are two sides to every story.

As a community, we need to remember that if you look at the historical record, in many ways, Main Street was here first.

As Anaheim Landing, it was the business which developed our city first.

Residents came later as it was identified as a great place to live.

If not for Main Street and our other centers of shopping, Seal Beach would not be the place it is today.

There is the ongoing issue of parking in our community. Will the city be as robust with their code enforcement of residential garage requirements?

To all of those residents who have surfboard-shaping areas in their garage, a home based hobby business or other concern in their garage where a car is unable to be parked, will the code strike you as firmly as some city councilmen wish to strike at Main Street?

I recently had one store owner comment to me how perhaps we should transform our Main Street into Main Street Disneyland—full of facades and empty storefronts with just window dressing. Residents and visitors could then promenade unimpeded through our “pedestrian friendly” corridor.

The 95th birthday of Seal Beach is coming up and I hope all of us remember that in our roots, business was the seed which founded our city.

We should consider the benefits they bring to us—in unique character, quality of life and ease of transaction.

I often implore you to shop local. In a bit of a change, I would ask you to consider the other voice, the voice of the “mom and pop” stores which dominate our centers of shopping.

Most of those shops are good neighbors and at some point, they deserve the right to advertise, have special events and enjoy some of the protections that the residents so extol.

Most of the shop owners and workers I know live in town.

Isn’t there room for both sides of the story?

Seth Eaker is the president of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Opinion: Are we focusing on the right things?