Chamber To Go Its Own Way On Oktoberfest

LA MESA – On Monday night, members of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce informed the La Mesa Village Merchants Association that it planned to file for its own permit for its portion of the annual Oktoberfest event this year.

The Chamber leadership, in letters to the merchants and to La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid obtained by, also pledged to shift its finances so that the city would be fully repaid for its costs for security and other services related to the Chamber's portion of the three-day festival that brings thousands to La Mesa each fall.

“As a leading organization representing the business community of the city we fully understand the importance of fiscal responsibility,’’ the Chamber letter to the city says. “In light of the many challenges all local governmental agencies face with ongoing cutbacks of revenues from the state and federal governments, it is not only appropriate but essential that we step up to the plate and contribute our fair share.’’

The Chamber’s agreement to “full cost recovery’’ that the city has been moving toward for all special events will undoubtedly be embraced by the city and will also put pressure on the Merchants Association, which has counted on city support for a number of downtown promotional events, including Christmas in The Village, the seasonal Thursday night car shows, and its annual Antique Faire.

Deena While, owner of Readers Inc. and the Merchants Association treasurer, said her organization was surprised by the Chamber's move, but wouldn't fight it. She said the association filed their portion of the permit Tuesday morning so the city could review the entire event.

"I think the meeting with the Chamber was amicable,'' While said. "In the past the city hasn't been amenable to issuing two permits for the same event, but we'll go forward and see how it works out.''

She said if the Merchants are forced to pay the city for the full cost of its support for security and public works at Oktoberfest (she estimates that at $75,000 to $80,000), the loss of income could threaten other Merchants Association events like the car show and Christmas in the Village, which count on Oktoberfest profits for support.

Madrid said this morning the city's fiscal challenges are forcing it to get full cost recovery for all events and he thought Oktoberfest should be included in that.

The Chamber has partnered with the Merchants Association for several years in producing the annual Oktoberfest with the Chamber operating the popular beer garden (pictured above). The event is a big money maker for both organizations, which count on the profits generated to help run the organizations’ events for the rest of the year. This move to file for a separate permit could be seen as a symbolic effort by the Chamber to rein in the Merchants Association which has become increasingly contentious with city officials in recent months, particularly over the effort to form a Property Based Improvement District in the downtown area.

In its letter to the merchants, Chamber leaders hint at this difference: “We realize that the La Mesa Village Merchants Association may not embrace the same philosophy and that is why we are submitting our application separate from your organization.”

The PBID process, which would result in downtown property owners paying a special assessment to maintain street improvements the city is building, has raised tensions between some merchants who fear the impact on rents and feel the city should be using parking meter money and sales taxes generated downtown to maintain the streets.

Whether or not downtown property owners agree to form a special assessment district to maintain street improvements, it is increasingly clear that the so-called PBID process is putting pressure on the Downtown Merchants Association to change and improve its operations in ways that go beyond Oktoberfest.

Miguel Rojas, owner of the La Torta Cafe, has become an increasingly public critic of the Merchants Association, complaining about what he says is lax process and bookkeeping, fewer public meetings and no regular elections.

"I'm not saying money is being misappropriated or anything, but things are very informal,'' Rojas said. "They need to follow their by-laws and operate like a real organization. It can't be just a few board members doing what they want and everyone else gets in line.''

Rojas was piqued when he said his attempts to revamp the association's management plan for the weekly car shows on Thursday night were summarily rejected by the board without even a public meeting to discuss his ideas.

While, the Merchants Association treasurer, said the group does follow its by-laws and accounts for the money raised and spent in the association's name.

"But it is a group of regulars who run these events,'' she said. "It is always good to be reminded that we need to revisit the by-laws and make sure we're doing everything we can in the right way.''

While acknowledged the group hasn't held regular elections because the posts are seen as a voluntary position, re-filled as people leave and others desire to join.

Arlene Moore, who runs an antique store and has led the merchants organization for several years, said the sniping about its operation is coming from those who are unfamiliar with the way the organization has managed to conduct its public promotional events over the years while still managing to operate their own businesses.

"As with all organizations, it really is the same dozen or so people who do all the work,'' Moore said. "That's just the way it is.''

Moore said she doesn't believe her organization has a problem with city officials. She said much of the recent problems stem from the pressure the recession has brought to local businesses.

"Yes when money became so tight  we went to the city and asked them to take over the maintenance of flower pots,'' she said. "That wasn't because we were shirking our duty. Businesses were hurting. Businesses everywhere were hurting. Can't they see that?''



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Tags: Art Madrid, City of La Mesa, Deena While, La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, La Mesa PBID, La Mesa Today, La Mesa Village Merchants Association, La Torta Cafe, Miguel Rojas, Readers Inc.


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Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on May 3, 2011 at 3:16pm

Russell's right. La Mesa wants us to pay for its own cowardice (i.e., fear of unions) and tax-happy greed. My response? Good luck! This is one merchant from whom the city will not extract one extra red cent.

Comment by Russell Buckley on May 3, 2011 at 1:54pm
This is yet another example of the City bailing out on worthwhile expenditures so that they can maintain pensions for their employees far in excess of what those in the private sector receive. With fair pensions that provide retirement security, instead of the wealth generation programs the taxpayers are made to pay for now, the City could easily afford to support this traditional La Mesa event. When are we going to tire of being told that worthwhile events must be sacrificed so that La Mesa workers can continue to be treated as if they belong to a privileged class. It is time for some new representatives who aren't so cowed by the workers.
Comment by Get Centered Clay Studio (Elly) on May 3, 2011 at 12:15pm


was once a business owner on Ray Street in San Diego. North Park Main Street is the BID through the City of San Diego which is responsible for improvements to North Park. As I understand it, they are a 501c3 non profit organization. They are able to apply for grant money to create many of the improvements like sidewalk repairs, paying for trees to be planted and watered, buildings to be spruced up, etc. They also have an elected Board of Directors made up of local interested citizens, business owners and residents. North Park Main Street is one of several BIDs in the city. Perhaps it would be reasonable to take a look at the way they run these districts and apply what looks good to the City of La Mesa.

As to the issue of the Merchant's Association asking the City for funds, I agree that the event expenses should be completely covered by the event promoters. The City of La Mesa shouldn't be adding money to the coffers of what is apparently a privately run organization of business owners.

The Downtown quaint atmosphere of La Mesa Blvd. ought to be available to other events as long as they comply with the City codes and pay their own way.


Comment by Steven S. Kane on May 3, 2011 at 11:47am
As the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association have their spat over the La Mesa Oktoberfest, it is important to note that the best Oktoberfest by far is presented by the German American Club at the club headquarters on Mollison in El Cajon.  It is a smaller event, but the food and entertainment are excellent.  The great band comes from Berlin every year to perform each day of the two weekend event.  Obnoxious drunks often spoil the La Mesa Oktoberfest for families and those who are not interested in boozing, but the German Club has tight security and drunks are never a problem.  The German Club Oktoberfest is a safe and fun venue for families with children and is more oriented toward fun than commerce.  Let the La Mesa people fight over their Oktoberfest, but you will see me at the German American Club event every year.  By the way, there is no question of taxpayers being hit up for any of the costs of the Oktoberfest presented by the German American Club, since the Club covers all costs.  No politics!

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