CALIFORNIA CITY — A overview presentation on California City's economic outlook by Councilmember Kelly Kulikoff generated a number of discussion points during the Jan. 26 meeting.
Namely on the future of the city's perception as a place to do business.
"California City has great potential," Kulikoff said. "We have a large canvas to work with and most of the impediments that stop us from being a great city are roadblocks built in our mind.”
He compared Cal City to a hot air ballon “made of paper and sprayed with gasoline,” adding “we are one wrong move away from burning the whole thing down.” He added the city made only limited improvements over the past three decades “that have fallen short of expectation.”
He added the police, fire, parks and recreations departments should all be supported by the city’s general fund.
Kulikoff said the city could overcome that by abandoning risk management technique of kicking things down the road.
“It all starts with a plan … not just a wish list,” he said. “We need to figure out what we want, no matter how far-fetched the ideas may be and use gap analysis to get there.”
Kulikoff said the city mostly needs branding, a plan of action and “framework that forces us forward” and away from relying on the city’s special parcel tax.
“We have an opportunity to put us on a path to sustainability,” Kulikoff said. “If we want to be a space exploration and technology hub, we must be looked at as a leader in a globalized market sector.”
He added that infrastructure impediments need to be addressed soon, rather than 15 or 20 years down the road.
Kulikoff recommended lifting a hiring freeze in place and allow City Manager Anna Linn to hire people for branding and strategic development, and making use of subdivision deferred improvement tract funds to fully develop parcels and paved roads.
“California City can be a tech hub, a manufacturing hub and even a cultural diverse global marketplace,” he said. He noted it would fall in line with city founder Nat Mendelsohn’s vision for California City; future land purchasers and developers “simply did not set goals.”
Mayor Jeanie O’Laughlin noted that the city’s “Vision 360” ad hoc committee, chaired by Kulikoff, has generated some solid ideas in its first few meetings.
Kulikoff said the topics coming from those meetings focused mostly on the city’s needs and lack of strategic planning or goal setting when it comes to branding the city.
“We want people from other cities to come here and not ‘have to come here,’” he said. “People from Lancaster probably have to come here because the prices are cheaper, but don’t look at it as ‘there’e more opportunities in Cal City.’”
He stressed Cal City “needs something that brands us as a city and we need to communicate that out.” The major missing component would be a team to handle that agenda.
Kulikoff’s concept would involve a full-time strategic planner whose job would be to push out ideas and engage people and businesses on social media and conventional platforms “in a different light.”
“I can’t speak for a lot of people, but even in places like Mojave, they could talk bad about California City and say ‘this is where the tweakers come,’” Kulikoff said. “Why can’t we be better than Lancaster? It’s all about branding and strategic planning.”
He later added in clarification that the city needs to shed that mentality and “find something positive that makes people want to come here.”
During public comment, resident and new planning commissioner Carolinda Fleming added any branding officer or strategic planner should have knowledge of grants and public relations “so they would be a total brand ambassador.”
“We need a brand officer that can wear five or six different hats,” Fleming said.
City Planning Director Shawn Monk agreed, adding that in the interim, the city can work on its goals and priorities.
City Manager Anna Linn agreed with the concept of a strategic planner.
“We are in desperate need of such a position,” Linn said. “We could bring back not a full position but on a case-by-case to see what they can do for us.
Linn added that city staff can only go so far in bringing ideas to the table.
“We actually need someone to go out there and market us, close the deals and brand our city,” she said. “Right now, we just react to things that need to be done. We don’t look at the big picture — we’ve never had this luxury of having someone help sell the city.”
Linn added she could bring a job description back to the next council meeting on Feb. 9 for discussion.
“We’re on the cusp of great things and I’m always saying it’s a great story,” Linn said. “Unfortunately, the story that is out there is an old story — ‘old Youtube stories, old ghost town stories.’ I think we need this [branding strategist] to tell a new story as well.”
Local developer D.J. Twohig said the simple question boiled down to how much was allocated for economic development in the current fiscal year vs. how much should have been allocated.
“This is a critical need, a glaring need,” Twohig, asking what economic development means to each councilmember.
Twohig defined his view of economic development as “doing everything necessary to attract job creation and getting industries in the community that will help us sustain our general services.”
“We’re not doing that and that’s what we’re trying to solve,” Twohig said, adding that Kulikoff’s recommendation is “to do everything necessary.”
Planning commissioner Mariah Dodson echoed Kulikoff and Linn’s comments on the city’s current negative perception.
“We need to respond and take back that narrative, really re-write what people outside of California City need to recognize the city as,” Dodson said. “We can do all the land use changes we want, but if we don’t do the branding, no one would want to move or bring their families here.”