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Business Boosters

By Jorge Casuso

August 15 -- One is a relative newcomer who brings plenty of experience working for competing business districts, the other is a longtime Santa Monica resident and veteran of the city’s political wars.

New Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Lynch and the chamber’s new board chair, attorney Tom Larmore, hope to combine a fresh take with plenty of institutional memory to lead Santa Monica’s business community during a critical time for the city.

Larmore and Lynch took over the top posts at a time when businesses are continuing to grapple with the longstanding problems of homelessness and parking. But it is also a time to look into the future, as business leaders help overhaul Santa Monica’s General Plan – which will dictate the way the City will develop – for the first time in a quarter century.

“There’s tension in the city brought out in the people who view it as a suburb and people who view it as a city,” said Larmore, who has lived in Santa Monica since 1975. “That seems to be the major dividing line.”

Larmore, who moved near Montana Avenue when it was a sleepy stretch that boasted half a dozen gas stations and a plant nursery, likes how Santa Monica has grown into a vibrant city and how the strip near his home has turned into a bustling row of boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops.

“Some people like Montana as it is today, and some people don’t like it,” Larmore said. “That’s a city environment, that’s not a suburban environment. I think people enjoy that. They like the activity and vitality. Many people don’t realize the services they get as a result of the economy.”

Lynch, a former executive with Schick Laboratories who has headed chambers in several Southern California cities, sees Santa Monica’s economic growth as both good and inevitable.

“As the businesses rise, the quality of life for everyone rises,” said Lynch, who grew up in Pasadena, where his family owned a pharmacy in nearby San Marino.

Santa Monica’s growth as a job center, Lynch said, “would have happened one way or another, because we’re part of a region that is among the fastest growing areas of the country.

"You can’t just build a wall around the city.”

That employees will play a key role in Santa Monica’s emergence as a vibrant business center that now claims nearly as many jobs as there are residents was the major theme hammered home when the chamber installed its new board of directors at its annual dinner in June.

“The issues really revolve around employees,” Larmore said. “We’re going to focus on increasing membership and target large businesses to make sure we have all of the key players involved,” he said, adding that Barnes and Noble on the Third Street Promenade recently joined the chamber.

The key issues that impact Santa Monica employees are workforce housing, health care and education, chamber officials said.

The chamber is currently involved with a new task force recently formed by the City to explore ways to create affordable housing for professionals who work in Santa Monica, where housing prices have skyrocketed and an estimated 80 percent of the workers live outside the city.

“That’s a big deal for many of our members,” Larmore said. “They have a problem recruiting and maintaining employees because of the cost of housing.”

The chamber also is exploring ways to provide health care to its members. Although a plan to have the chamber itself become a group policyholder will likely not work out, the chamber has formed a healthcare subcommittee to explore potential reforms.

“We want to understand the healthcare proposals and hope to become a small part of the overall reform,” Larmore said.

The chamber also is boosting its education efforts, partnering with the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to help students prepare for the job market.

“We’ve had two job fairs that not only resulted in more jobs, but in students preparing for those jobs,” he said.

Larmore became a local political player during the hotly contested 1981 City Council race that saw Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights – the tenants group responsible for rent control – wrest control of City government from the business community.

He later helped organize a homeowners group that helped turn out 3,000 people to a meeting on the City’s housing element and was a leading force in the successful effort to defeat the City’s unprecedented living wage law at the polls five years ago.

If Larmore brings a wealth of experience in the local political area, Lynch, who owned a computer and accounting firm and was publisher of the Westside Chronicle, has long been a business leader.

Lynch has headed chambers in Tustin, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Beverly Hills, where he launched the popular Westside mixers that brought together members from different area chambers.

Lynch sees a bright future for Santa Monica, where he believes relations between the business community and City officials are improving. The government and business sectors, for example, are working together to tackle the city’s long-entrenched homeless problem.

“We’re working together with different agencies of the City to address the homeless problem,” Lynch said. “That’s a broader regional problem that may start growing even faster with rising real estate prices in the county.

“Not much was done to address it in an effective manner,” he said. “Now the time has come.”

As expected, Lynch is a big booster of Santa Monica and its vibrant business sector.

“Some of the businesses that have ended up here offer high-paying jobs, and they’re clean,” Lynch said. “The hope would be that some of the residents would be employed here.

“Instead of (Santa Monica) looking for the businesses, these companies are finding us. More businesses are wanting to locate here.”


“There’s tension in the city brought out in the people who view it as a suburb and people who view it as a city.” Tom Larmore


“Instead of (Santa Monica) looking for the businesses, these companies are finding us. More businesses are wanting to locate here.” Jim Lynch




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