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Pico Rivera Chamber Drops $24,000 Subsidy From City

June 23, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

PICO RIVERA — When this city was incorporated 30 years ago, the goal of City Hall and the business community was the same: build and build quickly.

It seemed logical for the city to give money to the Pico Rivera Chamber of Commerce every year, paying the group tens of thousands of dollars to recruit new merchants and promote the city.

But in the last few years, there has been a growing sentiment that the interests of City Hall and the merchants are not always the same, Chamber President Bill O'Donnell said.

Refused $24,000 From City

And last week, the chamber board of directors voted unanimously to refuse $24,000 in city funding--one-fifth of the group's budget for fiscal 1988-89.

The decision also cast doubt on the future of the Miss Pico Rivera Pageant, which the city has paid the chamber to coordinate for the last 15 years.

"There was a feeling among some of the members of the business community that our ties were too close," O'Donnell said. "We are now in a better position to represent (merchants') viewpoint in front of the City Council."

The chamber's dilemma became apparent in the last few months as the city struggled to solve a cruising problem on Whittier Boulevard. The city's answer was to blockade about a mile of the boulevard on weekend and some weekday nights.

"The business community is very unhappy with that solution," O'Donnell said.

The chamber should have been an advocate for the merchants, but the city's contribution to the chamber budget prevented the chamber from serving as any more than a liaison between the city and the Whittier Boulevard merchants, O'Donnell said.

City officials have never asked the chamber to keep quiet on the issue, "but we always had that in the back of our minds," said Donald Schmidt, the chamber's president-elect. "Now we don't have to worry about the contract being cut off."

Freedom to Lobby

O'Donnell said the chamber also is now free to lobby on other city matters that affect merchants, such as zoning changes, street improvements and sign ordinances.

Then there is the Miss Pico Rivera Pageant.

O'Donnell said the merchants no longer want to be associated with beauty contests. "We decided that was a passe thing to do," he said.

Pageant Director Yvonne Santillan said the event is "very important to the community." The contestants--17 of them this year--spend three months preparing for the competition, she said.

"It's a learning experience," said Santillan, also a member of the chamber board. "I'm a little disappointed (about the chamber's decision) because I've gotten some great letters from girls who have participated in the pageant who really enjoyed it."

The spring pageant offers prizes and a $500 scholarship, but is not affiliated with a state pageant.

Now a Money Loser

The contest has turned into a money loser. This spring, the pageant cost about $10,000 but generated only $7,500 in income. Attendance also has dropped from 1,000 in 1986 to about 600 this year.

Mayor James M. Patronite said it is uncertain whether the annual pageant will continue. "I think we should wait to see how strongly the community wants it," he said.

Meanwhile, the chamber is trying to come up with ways to replace the city's $24,000 contribution to the chamber's $116,000 annual budget. The rest of the budget is financed by $140 annual membership dues and fund raisers, Schmidt said.

"We're going to try and cut the administrative budget . . . and make up the difference through membership recruitment and maybe increasing membership dues," Schmidt said.

About 300 area merchants are chamber members, and an estimated 400 others are eligible, he said.

O'Donnell said he views the split between the merchants and City Hall as a responsible step that other chambers, such as Whittier's, have taken.

"Now we're sort of mature, like a child that has grown up and wants to concentrate on things that are along his line of interest," O'Donnell said. "I don't think it's going to hurt us at all."

Patronite said the city is not upset about the decision, either. "They are still there, promoting the city," he said. "I don't think any of that will change."

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