Analysis and Opinion
By Lionel Emde
The Pacifica Chamber of Commerce, in a stunning departure from its longtime policy, has decided to exclude non-chamber members from its printed directory. In sending out notices of renewal to members, this change was first on the list:
"ONLY Chamber members whose dues are current will have the opportunity to advertise in our annual keepsake, the 2013-2014 Business Directory."
The policy of inclusion of any business wishing to have a listing or an advertisement in the directory goes back to at least 1980, according to Jean Headley of Headley Office Services, who joined the chamber in that year.
But that's not all, at least in terms of shocking changes for chamber members. Membership rates have skyrocketed, with one member telling this writer of a dues change from $160 last year to $295 this year! Others have reported increases of 50 percent from last year's rates. The notice of increase sent to members has the reassuring question:
"IN 'STICKER SHOCK' OVER YOUR ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP DUES INVOICE? That was never our intention. The good news is we've changed the structure of your annual membership dues by adding more features which increase the value of being a Pacifica Chamber Member."
The notice then goes on to note various technological "improvements" to one's business visibility: (1) six-line listing in the directory, (2) listing in a mobile iPhone app, (3) uploading of photos, video, and customer testimonials to the chamber's website, (4) e-newsletter sent to members, (5) the chamber's employing a PR firm, which will supposedly drive more traffic to one's business website.
The chamber places the collective "value" of these items at $1,000. Pretty reassuring to a struggling local business facing a 50 percent to 100 percent increase in its chamber membership, eh?
The irony of all this is that some businesses have passed this by long ago and already get their new customers online with no assistance from the chamber. This writer's business has gotten almost all new business references from Internet searches,
The chamber directory, which used to be the local bible of buying, has not been the source of much of anything in terms of referrals in recent years. And full disclosure here: I haven't been a chamber member for years, having not seen any good reason to join.
One of the stated goals of our newly inspired chamber is "Endorsing political action." The chamber has taken some pretty bizarre positions in recent years, including its breathless endorsement of Pacifica's very high garbage collection rates, which are being inflicted upon the smallest commercial base of any city in the county.
How that can be considered "representing the interests of business with government" (the chamber's words) will have to be left to the reader's imagination.
The chamber also has enthusiastically endorsed the proposed six-lane widening of Highway 1 between Vallemar and Rockaway, which would create the only such six-lane stretch of Highway 1 in the state of California.
And then there's the chamber's entry into the local political world. On the invoice for payment by local businesses entering the brave new world of chamber membership is a "voluntary" $39 contribution to something called "BacPac," a political action committee (PAC).
On the California Secretary of State website, our chamber's PAC is called "Pacifica Chamber Of Commerce Business And Community Political Action Committee (PACPAC). There are no filings or contributions as of yet, and this appears to be new. Whether it's BACPAC or PACPAC, the chamber seeks to extract from members a contribution, as evidenced by the new billing invoice.
Perhaps politics should be left to the people and their government. Or perhaps a business organization such as the chamber of commerce should actually be in touch with its members to know their opinions. It seems that neither one is what's going on at present.