The Race for City Council
Leading up to the Dana Point City Council election on Tuesday, Nov. 3, Dana Point Times will be publishing six questions, one each week, answered by the candidates qualified for the ballot. This year, the seats for Districts 4 and 5 are up for election.
The city is anticipating a shortfall in tourism revenue that makes up a sizable portion of the city budget. How can city leaders prioritize and facilitate healthy tourism in Dana Point while balancing the quality of life for residents, as well as respecting the rights of business owners?
A five-star tourist destination begins with Dana Point’s commitment to protecting our coastline, which includes a clean ocean experience for all uses and pristine beaches with access for all people. Our city’s goals should be a tourist experience of the highest quality, and one that we would spend our own hard-earned dollars for when traveling, but not at the expense of residents.
With every successful destination comes traffic, parking issues, congestion and pollution. I will commit to balancing residents’ quality of life with supporting our tourism economy, which is the engine for our resorts, restaurants, retailers, local businesses and local jobs. Many residents may not know that tourism accounts for about 50% of the City’s General Fund revenue each year. This revenue largely pays for budgeted priorities including a high level of public safety, well-maintained infrastructure including our streets, and more than 20 beautiful parks. Even less known, tourism revenue pays for meals for seniors, supports our local military organizations, and operation of a humane “no kill” animal shelter we fund with San Clemente. I will not allow the City to lose these critical programs that provide so much value for our residents.
COVID-19 devastated our tourism, although we are now navigating toward a positive rebound for our local economy. In the short term, we must continue to restore the confidence of travelers and residents by communicating Dana Point is a safe, healthy place to visit if even for a day trip or “staycation.” Longer term, we should enhance the role of the city’s Tourism Business Improvement District and Arts and Culture Commission within our beach music festivals, concerts in the park, street fairs on Del Prado and promote new arts and cultural events.
A strong tourist economy will create happy, local residents and maintain our “Dana Point Way of Life!”
This year has ushered in a perfect storm of personal, societal and economic upheaval seriously affecting our health, our lives and the broad economy. While we managed to almost break even in fiscal year 2020, we’ll be facing a $6 million revenue shortfall in 2021.
There are no easy solutions to what will likely be a protracted reduction in the City’s annual revenue stream. It is vital that all of us—City officials, residents, hotel and business owners—work together to maximize profitability in all sectors. The City is already relaxing rules to accommodate more outdoor dining. We must come together, dropping all biases to consider all options—such as promoting local hotel staycations, opening vacant space to pop-up stores and temporary retailers, cordoning off street sections to open-air shopping and dining, and hosting safe events to promote economic activity.
This is a time to listen to our business owners and do everything we can to reduce regulation and obstacles to maximize sales. It is a time to listen to residents, gauging their priorities, identifying temporary sacrifices in the interests of fiscal responsibility.
We must think creatively, maximizing every revenue source, ensuring cash flow is enhanced by collecting all revenue, including fees and fines. There will be some painful belt-tightening, a necessary sacrifice because we can’t rely on finite reserves and uncertain state and national relief to plug budget deficits. With the exception of necessary expenditures for public safety and health, every possible saving must be sought, while seeking minimum impact on services enjoyed by residents and businesses.
My experience with Dana Point residents leads me to believe they will be cooperative and helpful. Together we will meet and exceed the challenge, finding creative ways to weather this fiscal storm, replenish reserves and return to prosperity.
How to keep tourism-based economies thriving during a global pandemic? Now that is a million-dollar question.
I will aggressively seek state and federal relief funding to help our local businesses survive this economic crisis. I will listen to local business owners and work to meet their unique needs during this tough time. I will cooperate with the county, state, and federal government to keep Dana Point working.
We could consider a multicity/multicorporation partnership to drive air travel through John Wayne Airport, bolstering tourism. We could focus our efforts on virtual tourism as a marketing tool. Virtual vacations could be sponsored by local travel and lodging partners. We could shift our focus to marketing our small businesses online as a solution to the hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic. If we create an online marketplace that our local businesses can easily access to connect to a broader consumer base, we would help ensure our local businesses remain open through the downturn created by the global health crisis—a virtual farmers market of sorts.
I think that another good way to drive our economy during these challenging economic conditions is through civic works. The region is in need of affordable housing, and we could step up to the plate and shoulder some of that burden. By creating housing, we would again be keeping Californians working. By creating more affordable housing and live/work spaces throughout the city, we would help to ease some of our dependence on tourism by building a more vibrant and larger spectrum economy.
Most of all, I am open-minded and ready to hear your ideas. How can we overcome the current conditions and continue to thrive? Contact me through my campaign website at bebee4capobeach.com.
IAFF Local 3631 endorses Ben Bebee.
Dana Point’s annual revenue is normally between $35 million and $40 million, with the transient occupancy tax (TOT)—a bed tax accounting for the largest portion of tourism revenue—making up more than a third of the total revenue.
Before the pandemic, TOT had grown to more than $13 million annually. TOT plus sales taxes related to tourism took a serious hit in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and city leaders expect a further downturn of $6 million in 2021, equating to a total loss of almost 16% off the top line. This type of revenue loss needs to be met with innovative solutions and will force some tough cuts in city expenditures. It is critical that we maintain, first and foremost, our police services and public health programs, along with essential services like basic street repairs and parks maintenance. It is important for all of us—residents, businesses, hotels and city staff—to work together and keep focused on the bigger picture for our entire community. All spending decisions outside of essential services should be challenged with the question: “How will this expenditure help our tourism or businesses recover?”
Residents also have a role in helping us recover. Consider pre-pandemic Dana Point events such as concerts in the park, Doheny Blues Festival, 4th of July Fireworks, and so many others. We need to focus on getting back to “normal Dana Point” as quickly and safely as possible, which means all of us doing our part to drive down infection numbers and pitch in where we can to cut costs. Residents should be encouraged to participate in the recovery by shopping local or volunteering wherever possible by doing things as simple as picking up litter at a park or the beach.
Please visit villarfordanapoint.com for more information.