Anxious business owners, concerned they might be left out of plans to revamp Thousand Oaks' main thoroughfare, told city officials Tuesday they are ready to take an active roll in the redevelopment of Thousand Oaks Boulevard.
At a public forum in the Civic Arts Plaza, about 50 shop owners said the city's central business district suffers from parking problems, crime and neglect in some areas. And, they took the first steps to offer possible solutions.
The meeting was the first of its kind, joining shop owners with city officials, Ventura County sheriff's officials and community leaders. Most called the brainstorming session a good start.
"It's just words so far. But the words were good," said Michael Medina, owner of a pet store on the boulevard. "If they make the changes we discussed, I think it could have a real positive effect on local businesses."
At the close of the two-hour session, the business leaders agreed to support Councilwoman Judy Lazar's proposal to consult with out-of-town planners to map the future of the area.
Lazar, who moderated the session, said she would ask the council to invite a group of unpaid consultants to meet with the business leaders. The consultants volunteer their time as part of an urban renewal program run by the American Institute of Architects, she said.
At first, several shop owners said consulting out-of-town planners would be a mistake.
"We won't have any way of finding them later if things go wrong," businessman Dave Anderson said. "We have local people here in Thousand Oaks that could do this just as well."
But Francisco Behr, a Thousand Oaks architect who initially told Lazar about the consulting program, persuaded the group that outside advice was needed.
"These people work with plans generated by you, and they do not carry the baggage from the years of debate over the boulevard," Behr said.
Earlier this year Lazar had requested that the city use the consultants, but was rebuffed by council members who said the idea lacked community support.
Lazar said she will return to the council with the backing of the shop owners. For their part, the shop owners said they hope to become more of a force in city government.
"I think as a group we have a lot more clout," Medina said. "And, I think that based on the way this went, more business owners will get involved."
Although Lazar sought to keep the focus of discussion on long-term planning, many of those present said they were intent on solving more immediate problems.
"I think we should divide it up, and deal with the short-term and the long-term issues separately," businessman Larry Carignan said.
Store owners said they want the city to increase police presence, tow away junked cars, demolish abandoned buildings, increase parking and loosen restrictions on the use of signs.
"Those are all things that can be dealt with now," Carignan said.
Lazar said she would draft a memo to the council asking for help in solving some of the immediate issues.
But ultimately, she said, tackling long-range plans could be the most fruitful for business owners.
"It's taken us a long time to get to this point," she told the store owners. "But you know what's best for your businesses, and with you on board I think we can be successful."