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City Looks to Grow Its Commercial Districts

Aldo Cervantes, director of the Planning and Building Department, presents the city’s plans for economic development at a monthly Town Hall meeting which was held at the Crowell Public Library on Nov. 4. Photo by Skye Hannah

San Marino is looking to attract more “small mom and pop type businesses” to the city’s commercial landscape in its economic development plan, according to officials at Monday’s Town Hall meeting at the Crowell Public Library.

This month’s meeting focus was economic development, led by Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes and Administrative Analyst Stephanie Britt. Economic development is one of the council-approved priority initiatives for this fiscal year. In the presentation to around 10 residents, Cervantes quoted Jeff Finkle, president and CEO of the International Economic Development Council, that “economic development is about creating places where people want to invest, work and live. It’s about making connections between people, companies, institutions and communities.”

Cervantes noted that helping craft the commercial districts along Mission Street and Huntington Drive into more walkable and welcoming districts is a focus of the plan, along with locating businesses in a strategic manner.

“The goal here with our program and process is really to capture a lot of the small mom and pop type businesses, a lot of the up-and-coming business that want to expand and open up a second location,” said Cervantes. “Along the way, we’re looking to introduce a lot of anchor stores which will help the small businesses flourish in our community.”

Britt shared that the city utilized a third party to research analytics of the city in order to provide insight to interested businesses. The three “key indicators” of San Marino noted for business owners was the city’s average age of 44.2, average household income of $227,011 and 57.1 percent having a college degree. Los Angeles County was noted as an average age of 38.5, average household income of $94,095 with 34 percent of its residents having earned a college degree.

Cervantes also touched on incentive programs being considered for commercial districts, including façade improvement programs, streamlining the paperwork process for new businesses and waving fees for conditional use permits and variance applications. He noted a growing trend in “mess-hall market type places” where multiple unrelated businesses are gathered, such as a market, boutique clothing store and coffee shop under one roof.

“Retail is not dead, but boring retail is,” said Cervantes. “The brick-and-mortar business solution to e-commerce is really reinventing the whole sense of place, as well as creating a sense of experience for the consumer.”

The city will be working with business and property owners to aid in the formation of “healthy relationships,” according to Britt.

“The role of City Hall is going to be mediation, helping them to start a dialogue, making sure they understand each other, what their needs are in order to serve the community in the best way possible,” said Britt.

City staff also has made it easier for residents and businesses to learn more about active businesses, current vacancies and incentive programs through the city’s website cityofsanmarino.org. Under the Planning and Building Department section, there is a link under “Related Pages” to “Economic Development.”

The next step in the process will be to determine the best way to market San Marino, according to Britt. A focus mentioned at the meeting was a “high-end destination with a neighborhood feel” with safe and walkable streets that encourage pedestrian traffic.

City Manager Marcella Marlowe shared that many people love to visit San Marino for the quiet, peace, sense of neighborhood and the community, rather than the economic vibrancy. The city will be mindful of that point as the process evolves.

“It’s a matter of finding those things that are complimentary but still give our city some vibrancy,” said Marlowe.

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