Costa Mesa and Chamber of Commerce to partner on membership drive

As the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce looks to drum up additional business, City Council members decided this week to lend a hand.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to add the capability for businesses to sign up for chamber membership as part of their business license applications.

That option will be available for the next year as the chamber embarks on a campaign to boost its membership.

Chamber Chief Executive Eileen Benjamin said such arrangements are not unusual as “most cities in the county and the state help their chambers grow.”

“This will go a long way for Costa Mesa,” she told the council.

The chamber’s stated mission is to promote local business interests and Costa Mesa’s economic climate.

While the chamber has a bit more than 600 members, there are approximately 12,000 active business license holders citywide.

The city will collect chamber membership dues that come in through the agreed-to partnership. On a monthly basis, the city will send those funds to the chamber after deducting credit card transaction and handling fees, according to the agreement.

During Tuesday’s meeting, some said the city collecting money on the chamber’s behalf could become a sticky issue — should the organization opt to wade into local political matters.

Several residents said they felt some chamber officials inappropriately lobbied last year against Measure Y — a growth-control initiative requiring voter approval for building projects that meet certain criteria.

Others expressed concern that signing such an agreement with the chamber could lead other community organizations to seek similar arrangements.

Chamber President Tom Johnson assured the council that the organization plans to stay out of the political arena.

“We are not going to be a political organization,” he said. “We are going to come to City Council when there’s a business that we feel like we need to support, but we’re not going to be endorsing candidates for office or anything like that.”

Councilman John Stephens pointed out that both sides have the ability to end the pact at any time.

“If the Chamber of Commerce got inappropriate and political, we could terminate the agreement,” he said Tuesday. “If we had a whole rash of groups that came in … and asked for this and it became a burden, we could terminate this agreement.”

luke.money@latimes.com

Twitter @LukeMMoney

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