Changing Oxnard's image could start with a paintbrush

By David Michael Courtland 01/21/2010

Oxnard’s plan to promote cultural arts may get jump-started now that civic leaders have announced a “rebranding” campaign to make the city more attractive to business and tourism.

The City Council approved a cultural master plan in July that has so far taken a back seat to other things as tax revenues fell because of the sluggish economy, Development Services Director Matt Winegar explained.

“I know that the City Council would like to have some movement on the issue,” Winegar said, “but it’s, quite frankly, received a lower priority.”

Winegar said officials will probably re-evaluate the plan in coming weeks and may assign it to part-time staff, but probably won’t be hiring a full-time coordinator because of minimal funding.

The city’s Public Arts Fund has $467,000, raised since July for the plan from developer’s fees, but nobody has been assigned to carry out the plan and none of the money has been allocated.

The fund probably won’t grow by more than $20,000 by July 2010, depending on how much new development there is between now and then, said Winegar.

But movement may nonetheless come by March despite the lack of funds, said Mayor Pro Tem Andres Herrera, who worked with a committee of local artists to develop the plan over two years.

“Hopefully, in the first quarter of this year, we’ll be implementing the plan,” Herrera said.

Herrera said he hopes to have a steering committee established by then to coordinate the plan, establishing criteria as to art projects for which money can be raised through state and federal grants.

“We’re currently considering what process we’ll follow to help them maximize their opportunities for funding,” said Herrera, who said the plan covers the entire spectrum of arts, from theater and dance to poetry and visual arts.

The committee will act as a clearinghouse for projects qualifying for help with public relations, applying for grants, technical assistance and arts education, said Herrera.

The cultural master plan dovetails with plans announced last week by the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau to improve Oxnard’s image, making it more attractive to business and tourism.

The bureau has dedicated $125,000 to the effort and hired consultant Destination Development International (DDI), based out of Seattle, Wash., to carry it out.

Vicky Soderberg of DDI said the purpose of the plan, which is still being developed, is not so much to change Oxnard’s image as it is to encourage people to come downtown.

“We’re talking about what needs to be established, what needs to be done,” explained Soderberg. “The point being that if there is a critical mass of something that is appealing to people, whether it is restaurants, shops, or whatever, people will come.”

Vince Behrens of American Cleaners, a Downtown Oxnard Business Management District board member, points to Ventura’s downtown revitalization in recent years as an example Oxnard should follow.

“The City of Ventura understood it’s about art,” said Behrens. “When I was a kid, there were art fairs in the park; right now, if you’re an artist, you go to Ventura and show your stuff.”

Behrens says any successful effort to improve Oxnard’s image is going to depend on getting residents more actively involved than they have been in the past in deciding what direction the city goes in.

But Behrens, who has helped launch annual civic events like the Salsa Fest and Christmas Tree Lane competition, said city officials should be shouldering more of the burden of making Oxnard more attractive.

“Why am I essentially paying double taxes for something that should have been worked out at the city level?” Behrens asked, noting that the management district has been responsible for steam-cleaning graffiti off downtown sidewalks and hiring patrolling security guards.

“If you have a healthy downtown you have a healthy city. I’d like to think that when people think of Oxnard, they think of a pleasant experience,” said Behrens. “But it’s like anything else; it’s only as good as the last experience you had.”

Previous efforts to improve Oxnard’s image have ranged from a 2007 proposal by a community services board member to split the city in two — with a new city carved out of Mandalay Beach and Hueneme Road neighborhoods — to simply changing the city’s name to Channel Islands.

“I think most people who have lived in Oxnard long enough are OK with the name,” said Behrens. Changing the city’s name “gets enough traction to make the paper, and that’s it.”


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