"Our efforts have been motivated by the desire to bring in quality development and it's safe to say that the point of view within the city is that to reach that goal, it needs a new image," said Mark Cox, the city's public information officer charged with changing the stereotypical view of Chula Vista.
"The common image of the place is one with a lot of cheap businesses and environmental problems. It's especially acute because you get a terrible first impression of Chula Vista if you see it from Interstate 5, as most people do. All you see from the freeway is debris and garbage and deteriorated marshland."
That negative impression is frustrating, Cox said. Although downtown Chula Vista has undergone a massive face lift, not many outsiders realize it. Attractive residential and commercial buildings have sprouted in the last several years, making downtown Chula Vista the showplace of the South Bay.
"We've been very successful downtown and we have to let people know that," Cox said. "It shows where our future commitment is. People are surprised when they see our downtown and inevitably they'll say it's the kind of downtown they'd expect to see in North County. Let's face it--all of South Bay has a negative reputation. But we're proud of the transition we're making. This isn't the same city it was 10 years ago and we aren't afraid to let people know that."
Cox said he expected other cities to follow the trend of directing public relations in-house. "It eliminates the middle man," he said. "A lot of public relations involves quick reaction. I can react more quickly than the public relations person because I don't have to get up to speed on issues within the city."
Neighboring National City recently hired the Stoorza firm and assigned a city employee to work on public relations. "We aren't sure what shape its campaign will take but it's going to be the same painful process of spelling out the problems and then deciding to deal with them," Davies said.
In East County, Santee leaders make no secret of their ambition to change their city's image. The key to its future is the development of the ambitious San Diego River Plan, which would create a myriad recreational and commercial opportunities for the city. But like Chula Vista, it must convince quality developers that it is a good investment to build in their city.
If ever a community presented the ultimate challenge to a public relations specialist, it is San Ysidro. The beleaguered border community has a negative national reputation after an excruciating year that included the McDonald's massacre and a scathing depiction in "Lines and Shadows," the best seller by Joseph Wambaugh.
The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce plans to hire the Tom Gable Agency to plan a public relations campaign. Gable, mindful of San Ysidro's poor reputation, "won't gloss over the problems, because in this case it's impossible," he said. "Fluff doesn't cut it. You certainly don't volunteer information about the border bandits in the Wambaugh book, but you lose credibility if a potential developer asks about it."
Gable said San Ysidro must come to terms with its niche in the county's economic and social structure. "We wouldn't expect a Hyatt Regency there, for example," he said. "But we could get a machine shop built. We can stress the fact that there is low-priced industrial land and affordable, decent housing that is more economical here than perhaps anywhere else in the county.
"We'll deal with the crime problem head-on, by taking the offensive and pointing out the crime-prevention measures in the community.
"It's all a question of taking control of your own destiny, rather than letting the impressions of outsiders determine your future."