Photograph at Aroma di Roma on 2nd Street by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson
LBBJ: Do you feel that business owners in your district are happy with the direction the city is going?
Price: In general they are. Our district is unique because we have a position on staff that no one else has: we have a specific business liaison, Lisa West. Lisa works directly with businesses from the time they apply for their permit. . . . In that sense, for our specific district, we are a little more business friendly. [Businesses know] that we will advocate for them [and] that we’ll make sure we’re responding to people in a timely manner. Generally speaking, they love the direction the city is headed. There are some policy decisions that frustrate them as business owners. . . . Some of the concerns and frustrations they have aren’t necessarily with our district per se, but might be the direction of state policy or even consumer trends. But again, in terms of our district, we’re very responsive. If ever any issues are identified, we immediately try to make it right with our business leaders. I’m very proud of the relationships that we’ve built.
When we work with businesspeople who have businesses throughout the country . . . [they] tell us how business-friendly Long Beach really is. Sometimes with the local folks who might only have one shop, a small business, they don’t have the context from other cities. They might get frustrated. We do our very best to address their needs, even though we know that compared to cities around us we’re doing pretty well.
LBBJ: In your four years on the council, how have you worked to build relationships with businesses in your district?
Price: In the beginning, we sent out a newsletter to businesses with information they might find helpful . . . basic information for our business community to get them up to speed. We also do a small business forum once a year where we have a featured speaker come and talk about a specific aspect of running a small business.
Lisa attends every single business association meeting, including [for] the chamber of commerce. She is the only councilmember representative who consistently attends that chamber meeting. That’s good because it gives us a citywide perspective. She also attends the COBA [Council of Business Associations] meetings, and most of the BID [business improvement district] meetings in the 3rd District. We have our field deputy who has in the past attended the Zaferia [Business Association] meetings. . . . I meet regularly with business leaders. Aroma di Roma is kind of my office away from my office. I know everyone in here. In fact, the guys sitting by the front door there I call my ‘old white guy focus group.’ I have meetings here every Sunday morning and they have a lot to share. They read the paper and they have a lot of opinions. Most of them are business owners as well as residents. I try to have a lot of business meetings here or wherever anybody wants to meet with me. . . . Also, when there is a hot issue that involves businesses like the minimum wage or the Styrofoam ban, I will meet with businesses. We’ll do roundtable meetings in my field office, or I’ll go to their business because a lot of times small business owners can’t really get away.
LBBJ: What are businesses in your district telling you are their biggest challenges?
Price: My husband and I are actually opening a business on 2nd Street, so we now are part of that business community. We will be part of the Belmont Shore Business Association in a short while. The biggest concerns for small business owners are increases in wages. Minimum wage was a major issue for a lot of small businesses. [Also] changes in environmental policy that might impact the materials they use, like banning Styrofoam or straws. Again, [the challenge] for them is trying to figure out how to not raise their prices in responding to those changes, because when they raise their prices they become less competitive. Also [a priority is] streamlining the process for permitting, whether it’s building permits or additions permits, or even liquor licenses. We’ve really listened to them and have brought forth many changes through the council that allow for a more streamlined process.
For example . . . in the budget they are adding another person [to the fire department] to do permit checks. People can get their building permits faster because they have an additional body to go out and do the checks. . . . If we really were to look at every department that touches businesses and think about what improvements they have made over the last four or five years, the theme has been supporting our businesses in every way that we can to incentivize growth and allow them to stay afloat.
We have a small business incentive program that Councilmember [Stacy] Mungo and I initiated in 2014. When our businesses have concerns about not being able to stay as competitive, we will offer them small business incentive packages. We’re now doing a lot with small business loans. . . . When our businesses express concerns, we’re trying to come back with solutions to help them stay competitive.
LBBJ: As the elected representative for businesses in your district, what have you done to make Long Beach more business friendly?
Price: The theme of our administration has been incentivizing business establishment, business retention and business growth in the city and specifically in the district. Our sales tax revenues in my district from our BIDs remains high. A large part of that has to do with the fact that the economy is doing well. . . .
The other thing we do is we take a very active role when we see vacancies. In the 3rd District, when we had the Ralph’s close in the iron triangle . . . we met with the property owners and expressed some concern. They were going to bring an Orchard Supply Hardware in there, and I said, ‘We don’t need a hardware store right here. . . . We need a store that people can run into quickly to get things they need.’ And now we have the mini-Target, which is great. We had similar discussions with the shopping center where Whole Foods is currently located. Whole Foods is moving. We talked to [the property owners] and gave them ideas about what would do well in that shopping center. So we bring a very human consumer touch to our businesses, and that has made a really big difference. . . .
Best Buy is about to close, but that’s the thing. Consumer trends are changing. This is going to present an ongoing challenge for us. People like to go into the actual store to look at the different options, and then they want to go buy it online because it’s free delivery. We had the same issue with a [now closed] sex shop, The Rubber Tree, on 2nd Street. . . . They’d come in, they’d see what she has, and they’d order it online. That’s just the reality.
LBBJ: What businesses do you feel your district has a need for, and do you have a plan to attract such businesses?
Price: Men’s clothing. 2nd & PCH will hopefully have a men’s clothing retailer. . . . Other than the Banana Republic and Gap on 2nd Street, there are no boutiques dedicated to men’s clothing.
LBBJ: Is there anything you would like to add?
Price: One of the things our office prides ourselves on is we’re always willing to listen to suggestions. If we have business leaders who have done business in another city and there is something they like about the other city, they bring it to our attention. Usually within a week or two, we have an agenda item that asks the city manager to look at implementing that in Long Beach. . . . And Lisa is really great at that because she goes to every meeting, she hears what every business owner is thinking and saying. So she’ll often come forward with ideas for policy changes based on what she’s heard.