By Max Zaker
Healthy communities are made up of healthy businesses. This is an open letter to the business owners of Chula Vista, especially along the Broadway corridor, asking you to adopt and follow the principles and guidelines to manage healthy businesses. By doing so, we can work together to improve the area, make it more business friendly and reduce crime.
I know. I am not only a long-time resident of Chula Vista, but a business owner. I have been for decades. I have owned retail businesses, restaurants and real estate companies for more than 30 years. I know the struggles of a small business firsthand.
I am pro-business through and through. Small business advocacy and community economic development are my passions. I know how important small businesses are when it comes to creating jobs. I also know how high-risk businesses can downgrade a neighborhood. I’ve seen how the wrong element can turn a healthy, thriving community into a run-down, sketchy part of town that customers and clientele avoid.
High-risk businesses are typically defined as liquor stores, massage parlors, low-budget motels, smoke shops, vape lounges, tattoo parlors and cocktail bars, among others. They are often associated with a host of crime problems when they fail to comply with local and state laws.
For example, the connection between alcohol businesses and community harm is well documented. High-risk businesses also put a strain on law enforcement and other emergency services, costing the city and taxpayers thousands of dollars per year.
In fact, research shows that neighborhoods with more alcohol outlets have more public drunkenness, DUIs and calls for police service. Conversely, other studies have found that when alcohol availability goes down, so do crime problems.
The good news is that there is room for improvement along Broadway. We have to work together as part of a two-pronged approach. First, we must make sure businesses comply with local and state laws like not selling prohibited products to minors. That may mean giving up harmful business practices. Engaging the small business community and allowing it to be part of the process and the solution is also important.
Second, we need to change the business environment along Broadway to attract a clientele that is not troublesome. Some businesses may not understand their customer base, or may want to take the easy way out and not follow the rules. We have to help change the business climate and find the right clientele.
One will not work without the other.
It is not that businesses are good or bad, it is that some business practices are not conducive to a healthy community. We want all businesses to thrive and we also want to ensure that all are acting responsibly as good neighbors should.
We should involve the youth of Chula Vista. We are creating the community of tomorrow for them. We want to engage them in the discussion, as they will be the beneficiaries of what we create.
My real estate company, Keller Williams Realty Chula Vista, recently participated in RED Day, which stands for Renew, Energize and Donate. Each year, on the second Thursday of May, we celebrate RED Day. Making a difference in the lives of others and giving back to the community where we live is at the heart of KW culture.
This year we spent our day picking up trash and removing graffiti along Broadway. More than 25 of our associates participated, covering eight blocks of Broadway. This was a community collaboration between KW Chula Vista, the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) and the City of Chula Vista.
Recently, IPS surveyed 160 businesses on Broadway from C Street to Main Street. The survey focused on the responders’ perception of crime in the area, feelings about their personal safety at night versus the daytime, problems in the area and possible solutions.
Results showed that businesses are concerned about public safety in their neighborhood. A majority of those polled said one solution could be more restrictions and inspections of high-risk businesses.
When it came to crime in the business area over the past 12 months, 33 percent said they felt that crime had increased. Only 18 percent said they felt very safe walking to their car at night.
When asked about what the biggest cause of problems in the neighborhood was, 93 percent said homeless transients, while 71 to 73 percent listed graffiti, vandalism, litter and marijuana use. More than 70 percent strongly support placing operating conditions on high-risk businesses.
Operating conditions could include prohibited products; no pay telephones; graffiti removal; no loitering; exterior lighting; security cameras; hours of operation; advertising restrictions; use of sound walls; trash receptacles; no public drinking near establishments; and the requirement of retailer training programs.
When it comes to allowing regular inspection by police and requiring a police permit to operate such businesses, more than 70 percent responded that they would strongly support such measures.
Chula Vista is long overdue to revitalize Broadway by implementing sensible regulations to monitor and inspect high-risk businesses. This is not about putting business owners out of business, it is about transitioning into a healthy and thriving business community.
Max Zaker is a resident, business owner and planning commissioner in the City of Chula Vista. He ran for City Council in 2018.
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