Oxnard begins the process of changing its image

Skeptical residents want the rebranding to start with them

By David Michael Courtland 02/18/2010

Oxnard is having an identity crisis. Wanting to be a hip place to shop, dine and live, it has been having a difficult time shedding the perception that it is a hot spot for gang activity and crime. But the city is ready to put its money where its mouth is and has hired a well-known consultant to start the process.

Changing a community’s image is a process typically taking three to five years, says Roger Brooks of Destination Development in Seattle, who was hired to help make Oxnard more attractive to business and commerce. That’s because a city has to have a product that it can sell.

“This rebranding thing is not a shallow exercise, it’s not a new slogan or logo,” said Brooks. “A new name is not going to change the perception.”

A city needs to base a popular image or perception on something specific, explained Brooks.

“Almost every community in North America was founded on the profits of a natural resource,” Brooks said. “As we lose our core industries, cities are trying to diversify — in order to compete you have to be known for something specific.”

Brooks gave the example of the Sierras mountain town of Angel’s Camp, which, until recently, has been known for its Gold Rush mining history.

“So they changed the conversation; now they’re the mountain sports capital,” with businesses built around activities like mountain climbing and snowboarding, said Brooks.

Other examples Brooks cites are Santa Monica, known previously for its pier and more recently for being an arts center, and Santa Barbara.

“Santa Barbara’s done a good job; they’re the American Riviera,” said Brooks. “They have an upscale reputation.”

Oxnard needs to do more than just point to its beaches to give people a reason to come there, Banks explained.

“What makes Oxnard different or better? Right now, there isn’t a whole lot,” said Brooks “You say, we have beaches.

Well, who doesn’t? What do you have that I don’t have if I live 15 minutes away?”

Visual cues are also important, said Brooks, noting that someone driving past Oxnard on Highway 101 sees one of its worst corners.

“What does someone driving through see? The Wagon Wheel, and it says Oxnard Boulevard right there,” at the adjacent off-ramp, said Brooks.

Noting that Oxnard has a number of restaurants offering foreign cuisine, Brooks used them as an illustrative example of how Oxnard could develop a product.

“What if you made downtown an international district?” asked Brooks. “It needs a better product. If your locals don’t hang out downtown, neither will visitors.”

Cultural arts could play a role in developing that product, “but you still have to ask, what’s different about cultural arts in Oxnard than in other cities?” said Brooks. “It’s not enough to hang a brand on.”

Brooks outlined the rebranding concept to the public at a forum last month, but many longtime residents, such as retired code enforcement officer Joe Avelar, remain skeptical.

“I think it’s shameful they hired somebody to come down and tell us about the Wagon Wheel. We already know about that,” said Avelar, who says he sees no hope for the plan unless the City Council starts talking to residents.

“They need to get together and talk about what’s wrong with Oxnard, and what we need to do,” said Avelar, “and what we need downtown. Right now, there’s nothing for anybody to do.”

Avelar says he has talked to many others who agree there’s nothing for them to do downtown.

“They better start talking to residents; we can make (the plan) or we can kill it,” Avelar said.   

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