Banning Chamber of Commerce

BY DAVID JAMES HEISS

Record Gazette

After several years of combating its local chamber of commerce, Banning has come around to embrace its lead business advocate, offering it some financial assistance.

At its council meeting Tuesday, the city approved an agreement that funds sponsorship activities provided by the Banning Chamber of Commerce, from coordinating the annual State of the City event, to biannually producing updated full-color maps for distribution around the city.

The item was on the city council’s consent agenda, and generated no discussion.

The agreement to provide a combined funding of $51,000 goes into effect May 1 and continues through June 30, 2022.

It calls for the chamber to also provide labor and resource support for signature events and traditional events hosted within Banning, such as Stagecoach Days, the Phineas Festival Christmas event, and Cool Summer Nights activities.

The chamber is expected to lead “Business Leaders Roundtable” discussions; to coordinate with the city manager’s office at least four business visitations per quarter to assess the city’s business climate and needs; host quarterly breakfast meetings for chamber members that will involve a guest speaker; and help the city promote itself through press releases, news story suggestions to the media, represent at council meetings, and provide overall public relations for the city’s chamber-related events.

The chamber had to overcome the aftermath of a 2015 grand jury investigation into a golden handshake agreement — a “gentleman’s agreement” — it made nearly 40 years ago, a verbal agreement to allow the city to build its current police station at the former site of the chamber of commerce, in exchange for the chamber paying a $1 annual lease.

At the time, among the investigation’s findings: in January 2006, the chamber was given a 50-year lease by the former city redevelopment agency, with rent of $1 a year for 50 more years.

As part of the lease, the chamber was required to name the city of Banning as a “second insured,” meaning that, while the Chamber of Commerce is responsible for its liabilities, the city, with its deeper pockets, is liable if something happens in the event that the chamber is unable to fulfill liability obligations.

An amendment to the lease agreement, signed by the chamber and the Southern California Gas Company, transferred an existing lease for the city-owned building to the chamber, and required the chamber to establish a $10,000 maintenance fund, which the grand jury noted had not been done.

The report also stated that the city had not required the fund to be set up, nor had it forced the chamber to modify its insurance coverage.

The grand jury report shows that, between 2006 and 2013, utility bills incurred by the chamber were not paid; further investigation demonstrates that those bills were waived, based on a handshake agreement between the council and the chamber.

According to the report, once the waiver had been aired in public, Banning’s legal counsel determined that only the past three years could be collected, which amounted to $15,795.25.

Since then, the chamber has rectified its debts and established a $10,000 maintenance fund.

“There are several significant changes that lead to the new relationship between the city and the Banning Chamber of Commerce,” notes City Manager Doug Schulze. “First, the chamber is an entirely new organization with a newly elected board of directors; second, the agreement being considered by the city includes specific deliverables and reporting requirements which did not exist previously,” and pointed out the city’s grand jury ruling from last year that requires the city to not use golden handshake agreements, and to rely instead on official, contractual agreements such as the one approved Tuesday.

“A strong relationship between the local chamber and city government is beneficial to everyone, because it fosters a vibrant local economy,” Schulze says.

Chamber President Robert Ybarra was pleased to enter into a refreshing partnership with the city.

“I was not involved in the chamber when they owed the city money, so I cannot speak to that,” Ybarra says, “but I do know that we have a great board of directors, mostly all local business owners, and we have been working hard to build a relationship with the city and repair the reputation of the chamber, so we can help our members to get things done that they may need.”

Per the agreement, the city will provide $5,000 through the end of the current 2018-19 fiscal year, and $23,000 for each of the next two fiscal years, to the Banning Chamber of Commerce.

Council member Don Peterson deferred an opportunity to comment on the new developments for chamber funding back to the chamber.

The Record Gazette is the oldest dues-paying member of the Banning Chamber of Commerce.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net .

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.

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