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Ventura May Deck Downtown in Holiday Lights : Redevelopment: Some city leaders and merchants argue the area’s new look deserves a Christmastime sparkle to give shoppers the spending spirit.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Haunted by ghosts of Christmases past, some city leaders want to resurrect downtown’s holiday sparkle this year by decking the palms with new strands of lights.

The City Council on Monday will consider spending $38,700 to wrap palm tree trunks with tiny white lights during the holiday season. The vote will be incorporated in a discussion of ways to improve downtown maintenance.

City officials pulled the plug on holiday lights a few years ago when faced with $7.5 million in budget cuts.

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The result has been a dim and grim holiday season in the city’s historic center.

“It’s been pathetic,” Councilman Greg Carson said.

But now, after investing $4.5 million to spruce up downtown, some city leaders and business owners say it is time to bring back a little holiday cheer.

“This is a significant first Christmas,” said Tim O’Neil, president of the Downtown Ventura Assn. “I think lighting up downtown for the holiday season is symbolic for us in a way.”

Showing that merchants are willing to foot part of Ventura’s Christmas bill, the association pledged $7,500 on Friday to buy holiday banners for the city’s new antique-style lampposts. The old banners no longer fit.

The new green and red banners will alternate with off-white ones displaying a poinsettia, Ventura’s symbolic flower. They will go up in mid-November.

O’Neil said downtown merchants and business owners plan to ask the council to meet their pledge Monday night by buying the holiday lights.

“Past Christmases have been dark in downtown Ventura,” O’Neil said. “We’ve had some really meager attempts to provide lighting during the holidays.”

When the council pruned the lights out of the budget a few years ago, the city handed the responsibility--and several old strands of lights--to the merchants. Those lights are still around, but “they’re pretty beat up,” Public Works Director Ronald J. Calkins said.

“We’ve invested a lot in the downtown,” he said. “To take those old lights and make them work, nobody would be proud.”

The City Council has several options: It can approve spending $21,300 to wrap tiny white lights around the new palm tree trunks on California Street and California Plaza.

It can agree to spend an additional $17,400 to wrap the palm trees on Main Street between Fir and Figueroa streets.

Or it could ditch the proposals all together.

Carson said the expenditure is worthwhile and necessary given the steps the city has already taken to improve downtown and make it attractive to visitors.

“You go to any vibrant community that attracts people--there is ambience,” he said. “We’re having new banners. We are investing in our downtown. Our income comes from sales tax revenue. We need to create an ambience where people spend money.”

Besides, Carson points out, “we put electrical receptacles at each tree. I think we want lights.”

Councilman Gary Tuttle said the city needs to make sure its efforts are being matched by downtown business owners, however.

As members of the city’s Economic Opportunity and Revitalization Committee, Tuttle and Carson have both recommended the creation of a downtown maintenance plan involving the city and business owners.

“I’m still looking to make sure that downtown takes part in all of this,” Tuttle said. “We are not suddenly going to do all of it . . . . On the other hand, we have made a major investment downtown, and we need to protect that.”


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