Grover Beach has long had a reputation as a sleepy bedroom community, especially when compared with its neighbors — tourism-heavy Pismo Beach, family-friendly Arroyo Grande and the two larger cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria just down the road.
City officials are looking at ways to change that and to bring a younger, more vibrant culture to the city. The first step? An economic development plan.
The city is in the process of updating its Economic Development Strategy, which, once completed, will lay out a blueprint for how to attract new businesses, residents and tourists to Grover Beach. The city’s last development strategy was adopted in 2008.
The Grover Beach City Council heard a presentation of the draft strategy at its meeting Monday night, and council members offered comment on some of the plan’s suggestions.
The draft strategy calls for the city to: build on its local assets, such as the long-awaited Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center and its plans to promote commercial medical cannabis. enhance the quality of life by working to address the city’s highly visible homeless population and adding more family activities. foster collaboration with its surrounding cities and between businesses in town. build the image and awareness of the city through marketing initiatives.
“A lot of people just aren’t aware of what Grover Beach has to offer,” said Matt Kowta of BAE Urban Economics, the group that conducted the study. “This idea of Grover Beach being under the radar is a challenge, so if you are able to develop the message and get it out there effectively, the thought was that yes, people will start to look at Grover Beach — especially if they understand there is room for expansion for businesses that don’t have other options with where they are currently located.”
Some of the suggestions outlined in the draft plan are initiatives the city has long been involved in, including building the Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center to help attract more visitors and capitalize on the city’s beach access; expanding its broadband network to increase internet speeds for businesses; and exploring bringing cannabis businesses into the city.
“I have to tell you, as I was reading this, I was sitting there saying, ‘Wow, we’ve been saying a lot of this for years,’ you know?” Mayor John Shoals said Monday. “It’s good to actually have that validation.”
But that doesn’t mean the city is without its challenges.
One of the major obstacles to economic development is Grover Beach’s relatively low rental prices, which discourage developers.
According to the draft plan, the market rate for rentals in mixed-use residential projects is $1.52 per square foot in Grover Beach, while standard residential is $1.77 per square foot. In comparison, in Pismo Beach the same rental goes for $2 per square foot — which means mixed-use residential projects net developers in Pismo Beach about 15.3 percent more return on their costs than in Grover Beach, and 20.7 more for standard residential projects.
Even factoring in the lower cost of land in Grover Beach, the lower rental rates are disincentives for developers with money to spend on big residential and/or commercial developments because they can’t make as much profit.
There’s so much here, but then when you really look at the goals, so much goes along with what we are doing.
Mariam Shah, Grover Beach City Council
The economic strategy advises the city to undertake small beautification and maintenance projects, such as more streetlighting and improved sidewalks to add value to the area, and to draw more upscale mixed-use and residential developments that would drive up the market rate.
Other proposed economic development initiatives were more novel, such as finding ways to direct more people to Grover Beach from Highway 101. Unlike Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande, which both have long stretches of highway access, Grover Beach only abuts Highway 101 for 4,000 feet — or about three-quarters of a mile.
Shoals said the city has long struggled with its low highway visibility.
“We’ve been having this conversation for many years, and for the life of me, we’ve just got to find a way to make it a priority,” Shoals said.
The City Council will examine and vote on the final economic development plan at its next meeting, and it could list specific suggestions it wants to pursue.
“There’s so much here, but then when you really look at the goals, so much goes along with what we are doing,” Councilwoman Mariam Shah said. “But maybe when we do get the final, we should break out certain things. ... We address those in some way, but stay focused on just our goals, because this is enough to blow your mind. There’s a lot here.”